Nambour Civic Centre
June 5 2015
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a FIFO family? Is your family a FIFO family?
How do you keep doing what you do every day, at the same time feeling that there must be a better way?
In consultation with community groups, deBase productions developed a light-hearted, hard-hitting show about what day to day living looks like in a small mining town. Together with writer, Robert Kronk and Director & Co-Writer, Howard Cassidy, they spent time talking with people, collecting stories, and creating characters with whom audiences would relate.
Tammy Weller plays a very young sixteen-year-old at first who matures a bit by the end of the show. The first 10 – 12 minutes has me a little worried because each character feels two-dimensional until the actors settle into their primary roles and begin to play a bit. As soon as everybody relaxes on stage they have their audience convinced too. It’s a tough one comprising senior theatre students and general public, but Weller is engaging and energetic as Jenny, who sets up her story as if we are watching a film of her life – the movie in her mind – and this works a treat.
A basic set and lighting design (Josh McIntosh & Jason Glenwright respectively) allows Fly-In Fly-Out to tour to all sorts of spaces everywhere. It has an appropriately tired and faded feel about it, reflecting the tired old state of our mining towns.
The story is specifically crafted for young people, but the gist of it is for all ages. Since their mother died in a car crash it’s just the two girls, aged 12 and 16, and Dad (Peter Cossar). Jenny (Weller) and her little sister, Angie (Stephanie Tandy) don’t see much of Dad and when they do he just wants to relax. Jenny feels as if she does all the work at home, which is probably true. We see her picking up after the other two, organising dinners and offering to take on additional shifts at work to try to make ends meet. All of this whilst juggling schoolwork and friends and friends-who-are-boys (not to mention the usual predators, who make it known that they are, cruelly and more than a little bit inappropriately, interested in the younger sister).
David (John Russell) is a typical cringe-worthy teen, an ordinary high school student with all the insecurities and a tough, almost uncaring act, which masks his true feelings. Yes, he’s THAT guy. We really feel for him at first – a collective pity starts to amass in the room – but then I just want him to take a deep breath, step up and give the other guy a run for his money. The other guy, Seb (Patrick Dwyer), is a cute, calm, confident and very mature blow-in, visiting town for just as long as his father has work there. He effortlessly romances Jenny out from underneath David, and tension and confusion (and hilarity) ensues. Poor David. He doesn’t stand a chance and the romance blossoms between Jenny and Seb, leading to the most delightful, most awkward scenes ever, alone together at the lookout above the dump (how romantic indeed!) and later, at a party. Seb has all the cool moves and the inept David misses out and develops dangerous pent-up resentment as he looks on.
At the same party, little sister Angie attracts the unwanted-but-desperately-wanted attention of the predator, Chris (it’s Dwyer, cleverly double cast), and an entire sub-plot goes unattended when she is almost whisked away and assaulted by Chris and his mates. Perhaps this would be too much stuff at once, considering the original school-age audience intended for this show, or perhaps it’s another show, in which case I hope it’s the next to be written. As a mother and educator, I hope to see the issues of unwanted male attention and peer group pressure addressed whenever the opportunity presents itself. Within the bounds of theatre and literature, kids (and their teachers and parents) are generally more comfortable to talk about their fears and experiences, and more open to discussing choices that will help them to avoid getting into uncomfortable situations. Sure, there’s a punch up but there’s an ideal opportunity to intelligently investigate the themes of power and sexually aggressive party behaviour missed.
Kronk and Cassidy’s best-penned scenes are the more intimate dialogues, between Jenny and David, Jenny and Seb, and Jenny and Dad. The driving lesson is hilarious and when Jenny stands up to Dad, explaining that she’s not his wife and she misses her mum, and it’s all difficult for everyone, we get razor sharp insight into the highly-strung emotions of a FIFO household…of any household. This is also the moment we see the necessary depth of character from Weller, who depends a lot on the comedy of the piece but clearly has more to offer.
Fortunately, the show’s pace is furious and its characters are easy to recognise, easy to relate to. (You’ll see David and know him. You’ll meet Seb and know him. You’ll look the owner of the Chook Nook up and down and laugh because she’s so trashily familiar).
Fly-In Fly-Out narrowly avoids the condescending tone of so many productions “created for young people” and gives us a look beyond the frayed edges of families who struggle to communicate. Its themes of loss, grief, love, school, work and community are captured nicely, believably, and get us talking about the complexities of such a life – any life – and have us feeling grateful for our own.