Menu Sian Prior

Writer, Broadcaster, Singer, MC & Teacher

Culture Club theatre; May 17th on 774 ABC Melbourne [May 18]

This week i’ve been pondering how to get 774 ABC Melbourne Drive host Raf Epstein to the theatre. Every fortnight I come in and tell him about the marvelous plays and operas i’ve seen and every week he says, ‘yeah, I dunno, I guess I should go to the theatre’, but it doesn’t happen. Well I think I’ve found the solution.

Raf is a current affairs journalist with a deep interest in the news – in real stories and real happenings – what if I pointed him in the direction of some opera and theatre that has come straight from real life? Some has even come straight from the newspaper headlines. Let’s call it ‘reality theatre’. Would that whet his appetite? I hope so.

For example, this week a new opera opened in Melbourne inspired by the awful murder of Melbourne woman Maria Korp. ‘Midnight Son’ is a Victorian Opera production which I’m going to see this weekend (and will review next time I’m in the Culture Club), a new Australian work based on a story from the nightly news.

And another kind of ‘reality theatre’ is ‘verbatim theatre’ – theatre based on real stories told by real people about real events – and there’ve been a lot of those done in Australia over the past couple of decades. There’ve been plays about refugees, about the lives of indigenous Australians, and even one about the Newcastle earthquake I remember seeing over a decade ago.

This week there’s even a sequel to a verbatim theatre show opening in Melbourne (which will also be reviewed in the next Culture Club session) – ‘The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later’, about the murder of a young gay man in the American town of Laramie, Wyoming.

And the verbatim play I saw this week at the tiny La Mama theatre in Carlton was called ‘The Weather and Your Health’. Based on interviews with the grandmother of playwright and actor Bethany Simons, this is a one hour long two-person show written by Bethany in which mostly only one person speaks – Bethany herself.

This is a deeply nostalgic and very sweet little play which takes us back to a time when life seemed much simpler. The character based on Bethany’s grandmother Dawn is not given a name, but she’s a lass from the NSW country town of Gilgandra who grows up with simple, positive, Christian values and a traditional view of a woman’s role as cook, home-maker, carer and procreator. This woman tells stories about being a child growing up during the Second World War, and about coveting pretty dresses in the local frock shop as a teenager, and going to the local pictures and the local dance each fortnight, and meeting her husband-to-be when she plays piano for the local dances.

Somehow this character conjures a whole community just with the simple personal stories she tells. Meanwhile her husband (also un-named) sits silently in a chair, marking up the racing pages of the newspaper, occasionally turning the tranny on and listening to the races, and saying almost NOTHING.

So underneath this apparently simple, pleasant tale of one woman’s life is a much darker story about a poverty-stricken upbringing followed by a lonely marriage to a man who is clearly a gambler, and who ignores all her attempts to be romantic – in fact all her attempts to get him to talk to her, really. The title, ‘The Weather and Your Health’, is never directly referred to or explained, but you assume perhaps these are the two main topics of conversation in a town as apparently quiet as Gilgandra.

Bethany Simons is a very engaging performer. She turns herself into around a dozen other characters from the town, simply with a change in posture or a change in voice. As her silent husband Daniel Mottau certainly looks the part – the tall handsome stranger who turns out to be a serious disappointment. The play was originally seen in 2009 and now it’s been revived as part of a Regional Arts Victoria tour. The theatre was full of VCE students on the day i saw this play, because it’s on the 2012 VCE Drama Playlist. It would certainly be lovely example for them of an effective self-devised one-person play.

‘The Weather and Your Health’ made me feel very nostalgic for my own late grandmother Peg and her stories of the past. It is on at La Mama theatre in Carlton until May 27th.