a bad year for tomatoes

A Bad Year for Tomatoes

A Comedy by John Patrick

Lind Lane Theatre

14.02.12 – 24.03.12

After being in show business all her life, Myra Marlowe (Leona Kirby) is tired of pretending to be somebody else. She throws in the Hollywood Hilton towel and moves to more modest lodgings in the mountains. Only her agent knows where she is. She takes up gardening and begins writing her autobiography. She doesn’t get very far when the small-minded, small town folk interrupt her work and her new, quiet life with their petty gossip and trussed up dramas. Her seemingly brilliant plan to rid the place of pests and turkeys fails miserably. Her tricks and her true identity are revealed in the end.

Patrick wrote a farce (he also wrote wonderful screenplays, for which he is better known, including High Society and Three Coins in a Fountain). A farce is generally recognised as a humorous play in which the plot depends upon the skillful exploitation of a situation rather than upon any development of character. Well, despite the caricatures working in the first instance, there was little to no evidence of character development here so on that point, Lind Lane can enjoy some small measure of success. However, there is also, sadly, little to no skill demonstrated in terms of plot execution and the management of basic staging, pace and comic timing. A couple of the actors even appear uneasy on stage. This could be preview night nerves but, frankly, I’m getting sick of making excuses for some local performers (and directors). Sometimes, a more humble approach to the craft will do wonders. If you’re in it just for fun and you have no interest in becoming a more accomplished performer, make sure the rest of your cast know that before tech week, when it’s not too late to replace you, and skip this next paragraph…


It’s time some of you started asking questions of the people whose opinions you value (as opposed to those friends who tell you, “You were AWESOME!”). That might count me out. Whatever. If some of you ever realise that I (and other coaches, teachers and directors on the coast) know a little of what I’m (we’re) talking about, give me (or somebody else) a call and we can do some work together before you look, again, like a nervous, under-rehearsed, under-prepared beginner amateur. Seriously. Think about it. The same applies in retail, hospitality, education and business and you will have noticed that, especially in business, more and more speakers, salespeople, managers – people who want to be taken seriously by their audience – are engaging the services of acting coaches. Very smart. What the good coaches will do is stop you “acting” because we can see your efforts from the back row of the theatre and, damn, it’s painful! Sitting in the audience, we don’t want to see you struggling. We want to see you enjoying what you’re doing! Particularly in a comedy, it makes perfect sense! Think again and we’ll use a sporting analogy. If you want to play tennis with a few friends, you go hire a court and hit a ball around. If you want to be a good tennis player, the best, most confident tennis player you can be, ready for all sorts of play and ready to start enjoying the game on a whole new level, you hire a coach. By all means, if it’s what you want, you keep hitting that ball around with a few friends who are also after some fun times. But don’t expect me to tell you, “You were AWESOME!” at the end of the match. Okay? Okay.


So what happens when a farce isn’t funny? A good half of the preview audience and Director, Margaret McDonald, probably can’t answer that. The play was well received by its first audience and, apparently, there was “lots of laughter” during final rehearsals. So despite my misgivings, and counting on Lind Lane’s usual patronage, I think this cast can pretty safely assume they have a sell-out season on their hands.

During the opening ten minutes of A Bad Year for Tomatoes, I thought that perhaps if I could bear to sit through Leona Kirby saving it the way she started out doing, the production wouldn’t be so bad. She has her moments, as does Lea-anne Grevett (one scene particularly, a highlight for me, although completely OTT, is well executed, as Grevett tip-toes back and forth between the bottom of the stairs and the telephone, giving us – at last – a glimpse of some lovely natural comic ability) and Errol Morrison, who plays to the hilt, the dumb(er) wood-chopping, trespassing, over-friendly freak. At the thirty-minute mark, when the cringe-worthy neighbour, Cora (Deb Mills) returns for a second visit, I was hoping wondering if we were getting close to the end yet.

There is a particular demographic who will love this play to pieces. Clearly, I am well out of it. Older members of the preview audience chortled, snorted and upon leaving the theatre happily noted, “Well that was good, wasn’t it?” I smiled and nodded. Sometimes smiling and nodding is the best I can manage after a show. Sometimes, the less said the better. I’ve said too much already. I’m disappointed. I sincerely hope you won’t be.

If you see a lot of theatre, you can probably not feel too bad about missing A Bad Year for Tomatoes. If you don’t get out much, it could be your cup of tea. The production elements are fine (we can see how hard this company works to get great sets and costumes in front of us). In any case, let me know what you think. I don’t mind being proven wrong and I certainly hope you can tell me that that you enjoyed a faster, funnier performance than that which I had to sit through.

12 Responses to “a bad year for tomatoes”

  1. 1 Margaret McDonald
    March 29, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    Thank you for your honesty.

  2. 2 Leona Kirby
    April 7, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    Ouch! A Miserable Year For Tomatoes, it seems. As a matter of fact, coaching would be welcome. I truly love amatuer theatre and, as an uncoached actor in said “art”, give it my best, both in rehearsal and preparation. Whether or not that is sufficent to satisfy audiences is a personal matter, but I would welcome and absorb constructive professional advice with enthusiasm.
    Leona Kirby

    • April 11, 2012 at 10:36 am

      Margaret, I don’t think it’s very useful not to be (honest). I’m happy to offer more constructive feedback (in fact, I quite often do, upon request, via email or over a coffee). Leona, your approach to your craft is what we should be seeing and hearing more of. As performers, we’re life-long learners; we have to be. Without changing and growing we stagnate and risk boring our audiences. Of course, to some extent, regardless of our experience or training, audience satisfaction is out of our control. That’s what’s so wonderful and terrifying about the theatre: for any given live performance, people’s responses will be different. I’m sure I would have responded a little differently to Tomatoes had I seen a performance towards the end of the season, when everybody was feeling more comfortable. I’m glad that this show was a terrific, fun experience for those involved and I’m looking forward to seeing Lind Lane’s next, That Scottish Play, which will also inspire very varying responses! x

  3. 4 Jeff
    April 10, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    The brand of pure, unadulterated drivel exhibited by the above critic is typical of a psuedo intellectual who is drastic need of a reality check. I saw this play and yes, the critic makes some relevant points but the “destructive” nature of your comments leave much to be desired. Yes…of course this was amateur theatre but from my point of view all actors “had a dig” and their efforts were much appreciated by us plebs if not by an obviously “snotty”, self indulgent critic. The bottom line is that it’s hard to see value in anything if your head and moreso your attitude is halfway….no…”all” the way up your backside. Go take a cold shower and at least “try” to offer more “constructive’ comment in future.

    • April 11, 2012 at 10:52 am

      Hey Jeff, I’m sorry that (it sounds like) you may not have seen much live theatre until now but props to you for getting to this production, supporting our local theatre scene and voicing a strong opinion here. Your personal response as an audience member is based on your experiences and you are entitled, as we all are, to your opinions about the production and indeed, about my comments. As mentioned, I often provide more constructive feedback on a personal level to those who want to hear it and, believe it or not, my reviews are often very generous; something for which I also receive criticism for. I take your comments on board and will endeavour to avoid any more “destructive” criticism in future. Thanks. x

  4. 6 Jeff
    April 11, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    I wasn’t expecting my comments to be published but in any event I have to give you credit for responding to my criticism of your critique. Your comments in response were generous and not the least “constructive”. In hindsight..and aren’t we all the wiser for that,…. my comments can’t be considered anything other than caustic and I need to apologise for that. Live theatre? I’ve seen plenty. I’ve written scripts for kids’ performances at school level. I’ve been onstage…a long time ago.. but I hasten to add in very “amateurish” productions. I never had any pretentions to making it to makiing it to Broadway or indeed the silver screen:-) I also have to admit that I don’t have the knowledge to properly analyse the intracies involved in stage performance. My albeit brief foray into theatre was for “fun”. Yes…I still have an ambition to script either individually or in collaboration a stage production. At this time my life is “inundated” with a variety of projects so for me going to local theatre provides a welcome “time out”. Again…I thought that a Bad Year For Tomatoes while not “technically brilliant” was nevertheless “entertaining” in a performance that seemed to be endorsed and appreciated by the audience both during the performance and by positive comments outside afterwards. Over the years I’ve read more than my share of reviews and I agree that in many cases critics can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear but it’s still good to see “generosity of spirit” even if some don’t believe a performance reached desired outcomes. Again..thank you for your “positive’ response. Cheers…

  5. April 11, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    I’ve had that same experience (wishing it was interval or end of the show) at both amateur and professional productions. And in both cases the amateur shows were ‘loved’ by their friends in the audience, and the professional shows were ‘loved’ by THEIR friends and critic FRIENDS in print. But I also know from personal experience here in Ipswich, that many members of the local amateur theatre think they are just the ants-pants of acting – some even lie and say in the programme that they’ve worked with QTC! The productions I have seen have been beyond dreadful. I do wonder what that says about the audiences wider appreciation and knowledge of theatre and acting. But it proves beyond doubt that acting/theatre is a very personal subjective experience – it is not like dance or music (at least classical music) – where it is obvious to all whether it is good or bad, professional or amateur. I find it constantly surprising what some people consider good theatre, when I can see obvious inadequacies in performance, direction, style and interpretation. But I guess at least they are doing it.

  6. April 11, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    BTW I think amateur productions should subject themselves to professional critical reviews, especially given the prices some charge. Given my experiences at how they rate their own performances, and many claim privately that they are just as good as professionals, they should therefore be prepared to subject themselves to the same public criticism that all professionals face. At least they don’t have to worry that it will effect their future employment chances and whether or not they can eat and pay their bills for the rest of the year. If critics were encouraged to review my local amateur theatre group, I would be more encouraged to take part in their productions.

  7. 9 Simon Denver
    April 11, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    As a fellow reviewer I can feel the chinks creaking and groaning in the dam of Xanthe’s frustration. And quite rightly so. I have just retired from reviewing on the coast as my own dam has reached critical mass. The cold harsh truth is that the vast majority of plays on the Sunshine coast are way off the mark. As critics are we suppose to reel off reams of superlatives on every show we see so as not to distress repeat offenders or slap the sensibilities of the normal superannuated audience? Theatre is stagnating on the coast. It is fast becoming a made to measure series of farces and general fare for a recently retired middle class audience base. The coast has taken the path of quantity over quality.

    The problem is very simple. A play has – and always will – hinge upon the director. A good director is merely a benign fascist – as every facet must be overseen by them. The coast simply does not have enough good directors. In the end a series of glorified stage managers who can read italics normally end up under the banner of “Director”. The vast majority of performers I watch on the coast are in third gear and they don’t even know it. They have never been really challenged. They are deep within their comfort zone (as are the audiences). It’s the old adage – If it ain’t broken then don’t fix it. No, most actors aren’t broken – they just aren’t working to anywhere near maximum efficiency.

    Last year I saw close to 35 shows on the coast (albeit the majority were one actors). Three stood out! They stood out because the cast were stretched and committed. They stood out because they had clear and concise direction. There was a gap then to about half a dozen good shows – then there was daylight. The three standouts were “Epiphany”, “Influence” and ” Moonlight and Magnolias”. Unfortunately when you see shows of this calibre and realise they had the same rehearsal schedule as all the other shows and on the same or lower budgets etc – then serious questions must be asked about the sheer volume of plays the coast produces.

    The problem compounds itself when you look at local writers. The likes of Frank Wilkie and Bruce Olive are lucky to be based in an area that has so many theatre groups. They are lucky that the coast does promote new works. But until such a time comes that a mentoring system is in play by using inspired / inspiring directors then the art of writing will eventually peak way too early.

    Finally, the future is looking bleak. There are two generations of coastal residents that have no reason to go to theatre. The fare is not relevant as it doesn’t reflect their issues or styles. If we do not put into place collectively a strategy to bring younger people to theatre then we will witness our art form slowly slide into the realms of history. Please feel free to track the recent history of La Boite under David Berthold – an amazing story of taking their box office receipts through the roof by targeting a younger audience. Having recently performed at the Gold Coast Events Centre, The Judith Wright Centre (Brisbane) and The York Theatre (Seymour Centre Sydney) I can categorically state that all three were booked out with an audience of 21 – 33 year olds. They may be younger but they were so much more grown up than coastal audiences. They are there because the fare appeals to them and reflects them. They are there because one of the prime reasons for theatre is to reflect the hopes, aspirations, failings, morals and mores of a society. They see themselves in this reflection – not musty 1960’s drenched sentimentality.

    So? It’s a dilemma.

    Perhaps a two tiered publicity ploy is needed. Either bill your play as “By a bunch of locals just having a dig” or bill it as “by a bunch of people who take their art form very seriously”. With these parameters in place it would certainly help any reviewer. Superlatives for the former and honesty for the latter.

  8. April 11, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    This is what I see as the problem with Coast theatre – we keep trying to blur the lines between Amateur and Independent Theatre. We need to have different expectations for each! Of course we want the shows to be fantastic and see the joy in the Actors – but sometimes we don’t and that’s okay too. The word “amateur” comes from a French word meaning: “lover of”. Everyone who is involved in the Coast’s Amateur theatre is a Lover of theatre! Amateur theatre is more about the people involved with the production than those people that come and see it. It is about a group of people expressing that love. Why should they get more training if they are loving their experience? And if the local audience loved it – how fantastic!

  9. April 11, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Unfortunately I think the term ‘amateur’ is overused and misappropriated. In this day and age the true definition of ‘amateur’ more appropriately belongs to those professionals, particularly to those doing independent productions, who struggle against enormous odds to produce their work. They are the ones who forego stable lifestyles because they love theatre and they are the ones who pursue it to the best standard that they can. Whereas ‘amateur’ productions frequently fail abysmally at living up to their title ‘amateur’. Rather they seem to love the psuedo lime-light and applause of their mates in the audience. They are not doing it because they love theatre, otherwise they would welcome challenging criticism to improve their craft. Rather they want the comfort of being loved for their mediocrity. Whilst I’m sure there is room for the type of theatre Simon Denver refers to ie theatre designed to attract young audience; I as an older middle aged theatre goer with considerable experience producing theatre, find the fare now dished out to appeal to the young rather lacking and inadequate for my tastes. In fact I consider the latter to also appeal to their theatre mates and extended friends and engage in very ill-thought out undergraduate themes which they seem to think profound and challenging. That is fine if in the long run it builds a solid audience base, but I do wonder how they will cope with a truly brilliant, wordy, complex production. Or will they instead develop an uncritical eye just as the bulk of amateur audiences currently have? I have heard local amateur Ipswich theatre directors compare their productions to professional productions of the same play that they have seen whilst on holiday in Sydney: only to praise their own in comparison! Now that is just scary! And in reference to Cathy’s comment above, yes it’s fine that they love and enjoy what they see – look at the teens this week loving the latest boy band – it doesn’t require taste or discretion or education to love rubbish. But you have to ask yourself is that all theatre is/should be and is that OK? There is a greater disparity in theatre between amateurs and professionals than in the allied performing arts of music and dance. Why is that? Why do amateur dancers and musicians aspire to be as good as professionals and admire and watch their work? And why don’t amateur theatre people have the same attitude?

  10. 12 John Mcmahon
    April 11, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    If there is a review written, it is one person’s opinion of what happened at that particular performance.The cast can lap it up and take it on the chin or talk between themselves about how little the critic knows.Getting all hurt and offended doesn’t help anyone.Try to find at least one thing you can learn and apply it to your next performance.I thought ‘tomatoes” was dated.In fact I said “Why would you bother?” However, each time Lea-Anne Grevett came on stage she absolutely shone for me.She stopped just short of being ridiculous and I loved her bits.Whoever did the costumes for Lea-Anne and Deb did a fabulous job.Set was great.
    Back in the 70’s we regularly saw people get roles because they were mates with the Director.I can remember at BATS with one musical where on the final performance because there was a double cast , all the Principals changed over at half time.Wasn’t that confusing for the audience!
    The bottom line is you are asking people to pay good money to come along to see shows.They are entitled to see the best show you can possibly put on.If you can’t get the cast you want ,it is better to defer/postpone rather than go into a show with someone who you know in your heart is not good enough.Audiences are not stupid.
    if you really want to experience reviews, go on the Drama Festival Circuit where you can scoop the pool one week and then be told the next week just how terrible you are.It’s one person’s opinion people!

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