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True Love Travels on a Gravel Road

See article in its original contexte here by Ash Cottrell for Theatre People.

Fortyfive downstairs is one of my favourite art spaces in the city so when I get the chance to see a play there, I jump at the opportunity. I love the descent into the depths of the theatre from the street entrance and I’ve often wondered if there were forty-five stairs on the way down as well, but always forget to count. I find the steep stairs and the fairy lights dazzling on the way down and the anticipation for the looming performance grows as the set is revealed once at the bottom.

This time around the lower ground floor revealed a compelling set (designed by Christina Logan-Bell) that consisted of a large corrugated iron structure dominating the area. It looked rustic, rural and intrinsically Australian. It was also walked on by the audience as they were ushered to their seats and I started to wonder whether the show would be interactive. The set was sprawling and I thought as I sat in the front row how exciting it would be to have the actors cover such a large space. They did it well and to my credit, I chose the right seat to capture all of the drama.

Comedy/Drama would perhaps be a more apt genre description as there was plenty of comedic relief amidst the drama. At one point Fawlty Towers meets Dog Day Afternoon came to mind when a stick-up turned into a hilarious exchange as incompetent characters met stubborn and fearless ones.  Indeed for me, it was the farcical moments in the play, performed with brilliant timing and physical comedy that were the most enjoyable.

Here, the stand out performers were David Kambouris who played the volatile, arms-dealing, dedicated dog owner, Richard and Elizabeth McColl who played the straight talking Aussie battler, Glenda. On this point, I loved this play’s willingness to be silly. Too often in my opinion, theatre plays the dark and serious notes and there doesn’t seem to be enough of the playful. In these stakes, True love travels on a gravel road delivered the goods.

This award winning play tells the story of Maggie and her lover Jake. Jake is sort of the town (for want of a less offensive word) idiot and in order to get the necessary funds together to take Maggie to Memphis so she can go to Graceland (she’s a die-hard Elvis fan), he devises a plan to hold his workplace up at gunpoint. Anybody who has actually been to Graceland or even Memphis for that matter will tell you, sometimes what is imagined isn’t quite so spectacular in real life and it is this idea that forms the essence of the play. It explores hopes and desires and how they can sometimes be misguided and ultimately destructive.

In terms of story, the beginning and middle drew me in and the high drama and comedy just before interval, as the comical hold-up ensued, led my enjoyment levels to their zenith. After the interval though, I felt that the play began to lose me and ultimately, the end lacked the substance I had hoped for. While the audience in the Q & A articulated an understanding and appreciation for the lead character Maggie (played wistfully by Emily Goddard), I struggled to like or at the very least, empathise with her. I also was left wondering what the purpose of the other relationship dramas that unfolded were, between Sam (played excellently by Chris Broadstock) and Angie (played with insight by Marnie Gibson).I guess they all informed what Jane Miller (playwright) described in the program as examples of good people ‘pursuing their heart’s desire without thought for the consequences’ but I was left feeling perhaps they were underdeveloped.

Despite disagreement from my fellow theatre-going party, the character of Jake also failed to enthral me although I must say that the actor that played him, Glenn van Oosterom was gorgeous in person during the Q & A. Engaging, articulate and humble, he seemed to be very invested in his character’s trajectory and how the play had evolved, so it was no surprise to learn that he had (along with the rest of the cast) been integral in the process of developing the script. His candour in the Q & A was a highlight for me as he humorously recounted childhood experiences that drew him to the world of acting.

While the love story of Jake and Maggie didn’t resonate with me and I didn’t feel overly connected with the respective plights of the characters, I thoroughly enjoyed the play, laughed out loud and even though he is not of my generation, enjoyed the homage paid to the King. As this play marks the second collaboration between playwright and director Beng Oh, who did a commendable job directing the actors, I’m sure it won’t be the last and I look forward to the third instalment.



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