“Only an Orphan Girl” is a traditional melodrama that belongs specifically to the definition of a “well-made” play. Director Barry Hill, in his programme notes, states that this is the first time the Tea Tree Players have staged such a play. Judging by the enthusiastic response of the first night audience and, more to the point, their willingness to participate from the start, I’m sure another offering from this dramatic genre will likely be considered in the future.
The plot of “Orphan Girl” is pure artifice and, whilst it bounces around (much like the characters conveying it) we constantly have its narrative conveniently outlined and reinforced. There is a sum of money, a much negotiated mortgage (mort-gauge!), hidden information and identity, a locket containing the likeness of a deceased mother, a couple of murderous plans, a theft and, of course, an orphan! As always the prime motivating factor is greed seasoned with a sprinkle of lust.
Critical to this production is the duality of light and sound. Music, in particular requires perfect timing throughout the play as well as during the Music Hall interludes. In this technical area Mike Phillips along with Robert Andrews excel. All cues are spot on and sound levels appropriate for both accompanying “character music” and audience participation. The MC for the evening is Tim Cousins. He is a most effective ringmaster during all proceedings and firmly puts his authoritarian stamp on that role from the beginning.
Ma Perkins (Heather Riley) and husband Swem (Tom Moore with hayseed hat) are a likeable duo. I particularly liked their repeat line routine. That kind of business works well in this type of play. Their son, Dick, judging by movement similarities, is a chip off his Old Man’s block, but more of him later. Young Lucy Appleby (Eleanor Mae Lawson) spends a lot of time with the Perkins family and is almost one of the them. Her mother Mrs Appleby (Cathie Oldfield) is the original holder of the Perkins mortgage papers and is a good and kind landlady. Lucy is especially fond of orphan Nellie (Cheyenne Loveday) who makes for an excellent heroine. Cheyenne invests Nellie with just the right degree of supplication and instantly gains the empathy and sympathy of the audience. It is a nicely tuned performance. The villain of the piece is Arthur Rutherford played by Mike Pole. Resplendent in top hat, black cape and sporting waxed moustache, he easily incurs the disfavour of the paying punters in the pews. Mike voices his character very well indeed but I thought he might do more twirling and swirling of both moustache and cape. His interaction with the audience is as it should be and it is a comforting joy to dislike him. Theresa Dolman plays Arthur Rutherford’s estranged wife Ethel. She turns up at just the wrong time thus ultimately thwarting Arthur’s uncomfortable courting of our heroine Nellie. She is attracted to young Dick Perkins and their little titillating tete-a-tetes really tickle the fancy of the audience.
Without doubt, acting honours go to our hero Dick portrayed with fine comic extravagance by Clinton Nitschke. His marionette like movement especially in entries and exits is both funny and flawless. When Dick is on stage he is the centre of attention. Clinton makes Dick the quintessential melodramatic hero.
Music Hall acts (brought to us, I assume, at little expense to the TTP Theatre!) are carried by hard-working cast members Ashlee Brown and Lachlan Blackwell. They were both well received and their “pas-de-balloon” Sketch is an absolute winner. Well done both! I must make passing reference to the most authentic and delightfully repetitive flurries of snow deftly delivered during various exits in the Christmas Eve scene.
If you are contemplating a visit to the theatre and you prefer something a little cerebral and subtle then maybe “Orphan Girl” is not your thing. However if you favour melodramatic suspense and potential demise by dynamite or large timber mill circular saw then the Tea Tree Players can offer you a rollicking good time! Certainly not to be sneered at!