‘Summer Wonderland’ was cheerful.
A cracker of a comedy about fake snow, fairy lights and the great Australian dream, ‘Summer Wonderland’ is a show that will no doubt hit home for many audience members.
Presented by Growl Theatre at the Windsor School of Arts, there was an abundance of festive cheer for this joyful production. Featuring a plot about Christmas lights and the silly season, ‘Summer Wonderland’ is the type of play that can work at any time of the year. The story delves into family dynamics and the intrinsic nature behind relationships, all whilst encouraging dreaming and looking at the bigger picture of life. At its core, ‘Summer Wonderland’ is a heartfelt message of hope, even if the storyline was farcical, with mail-order brides and mafia gags.
Written by Matthew Ryan, the script was first performed by La Boite Theatre Company in 2007, where the play was so successful the season was extended. A parody on suburban neighbourhoods and the quirky characters that live behind closed doors, there’s so much content within the show that makes it extremely relatable. Especially for Aussies who know too darn well that Christmas time in Australia is bloody hot.
New directors Leisa Bye and Alexia Suttor have undertaken an ambitious job handling Growl Theatre’s first production of 2019. With a decent cast size and a show that aims to pull at heartstrings, the content needs to be handled carefully to gain its intended result. Luckily for the co-directing duo, they managed to capture the sizzling heat of an Australian Christmas. Emphasising on ‘Summer Wonderland’s’ token colloquialisms and by using stereotypical props, audiences felt very much like a neighbour living on the cul-de-sac.
At times, actors fell into straight lines, which hindered the dynamics of the play and restricted movement. The action then became relatively static and confined within the limited stage space. This could have been overcome by giving actors something to do around their respective “home”.
Breakthrough moments occurred when the players were encouraged to sit on the front steps of the stage or enter the scene via the audience. This element worked exceptionally well for characters like Mrs Slade with her repetitive snooping on the neighbourhood.
Set design by Jason Sharland was excellent. Tiny wooden houses emulated a typical residential street, with contrasting designs and features. From a dilapidated run-down home to a monstrous architectural eyesore, the attention to detail within the set with different styled doors, shapes and even lattice plant trainers was superb. As the story developed, specific Christmas decorations were a great touch and added personality to the residents living at each lot. The set construction, painting and production team should be proud.
The cast delivered solid performances, even if they had to compete with a hot hall and constant air-conditioning noise (both factors completely out of their control). Matteo Melzi was a standout in his role of the harsh Russian debt collector, Gustav. His facial expressions made it hard to not watch him as he threatened other characters and caused mayhem within the neighbourhood.
Jaylin Purtill was sweet and an acting delight as the sheltered ‘Demoiselle’. Her innocence on stage was honest and well-conceived. Luke Johnstone gave us a very nerdy and anxious ‘Eugene’ and was peculiar and fun-loving – especially when he popped up randomly behind the set.
Kathleen Yorston was nosey as the very religious neighbourhood prude, Mrs Slade. She had the audience in the palm of her hand, and her empty pet leash, which resembled her beloved pooch, was a nice touch to her characterisation. There was a moment, where the dog did “disappear”, however, Kathleen handled it with aplomb and stayed very much in character throughout.
Rounding out the cast, Lauren Flood was energetic as Svetlana, Aidan O’Donnell played a naïve Foster, Brayden Argent played the Aussie bogan-dad Bob, and Melanie Kempton was a snooty Mardi. It was evident that the ensemble seemed to have much fun pestering and pranking each other on stage.
Filled with clichés and light-hearted humour, ‘Summer Wonderland’ was a cheerful night out at the theatre. Its appeal leaves you wanting to love thy neighbour and host a big barbecue where everyone’s welcome. A trait which is held by Growl Theatre, who make you feel at home when you pop by for a visit.
‘Summer Wonderland’ performs at Growl Theatre until Saturday, 23 February 2019. Tickets are available at http://growltheatre.org.au/buy-tickets/.