I write not as a “city slicker” but as witness, and oft times contributor/participant in country community theatre over the past 50 years. The ambience of the Mount Pleasant Soldiers Memorial Hall is reminiscent of similar gathering places in towns like Quorn, Snowtown, Mallala, Owen, Auburn….indeed all of small town Australia! They all have rich tales to tell of meetings, weddings, funerals, debutante balls et al. They play host to all manner of community celebration. Sometimes, once or twice per year the local hall provides the stage, the platform, the arena for locals to “strut their stuff” via the annual theatre offering.
TOTT’s production of “Love! Love? Love…” directed by Meg Stephens fits this bill to perfection. The theatre group provides the vehicle for local residents of all ages to take that courageous leap of faith and take to the stage to construct an entertainment for their fellow citizens.
The opening musical sequence to mark the beginning of time a la Stanley Kubrick is impressive but the clutch of sketches that accompany this dramatic start are not delivered with the pace and impact to match. However it was opening night and I’m sure that presentation, entry and exits, and overall crispness will improve with both experience and gained confidence. There are some very good voices within the ensemble. I thought the mellow baritone of Les Modra deserved to be showcased a little more. I can imagine him giving a worthy treatment to the song “Yesterday” for example. Rebecca Holder consistently aims at “selling” the numbers she participates in. Her animation is a great example of what needs to be done throughout the performance. Kate Farrer never stops working the stage and injecting energy in group numbers like “50 Ways” or excellent solo efforts as in “Mein Herr”. She has a natural stage presence. Micah Jackson has a lovely speaking voice and in the brief time he stopped reading jokes from a script and spoke directly to his audience his communication with us improved manifold. Colin Holder holds a note well and this is evident in his chorus work as well as his ubiquitous Elvis impression. Jamie Fahner’s violin solo is quite charming and her presentation skills will only improve with confidence. I would have liked to have heard more. A number of younger performers were involved and their contribution is both applauded and encouraged.
Overall I thought the piece needed a choreographer. There needs to be somebody who can devise and advise as well as assist the director with regard to all movement on stage. Whilst vocal work is good overall the chorus presents in a straight line or rather static semicircles and this does little to “sell” their product to us. In casting my eyes across the audience from time to time it was evident they were both engaged and appreciative. However I had a distinct feeling they would readily join in at times, if invited to so do! Why not encourage that? There are several key cast members who have both the confidence and wherewithal to inspire audience participation. Numbers like “Love is in the Air”, “Hooked on a Feeling”, “Yesterday” and Karen Carpenter’s sublime “Close to You” are all familiar to many people.
I am impressed with the sound system in the venue. It is quite excellent, but I think that the lighting grid needs a boost. I am sure this will eventuate.
I have a love and respect for country towns and my wife and I have raised our family in several of them. I will gladly visit again.