‘Summer Wonderland’ // MATES Theatre Genesis

‘Summer Wonderland’ was spirited.

We can all do with some extra festive cheer this year, and who better to provide it than an Aussie dropkick, a high-flying businesswoman and a Russian debt collector? The neighbours of a suburban Australian cul-de-sac understand more than most that beggars can’t be choosers. They’ll take what they can get!

After two years of pandemic pushback, Mates Theatre Genesis is finally celebrating their very Aussie Christmas with this cracker of a comedy about fake snow, fairy lights and the great Australian Dream. Diving into family dynamics and the intrinsic nature of neighbourhood relationships, this play emphasises the importance of life, hope and communal celebration.

Written by Matthew Ryan and first performed by La Boite Theatre Company in 2007, the play has a history of theatrical success. You can see why, for it has all the ingredients for a Christmas special. The play is a parody of suburban neighbourhoods and the interesting characters that live behind closed doors. The content is extremely relatable to Aussies for whom Christmas time is filled with shorts, thongs, sunburn, and blistering heat.

Director, set and costume designer, props mistress and President of Mates Theatre Genesis, Suze Harpour, has undertaken the merry task of producing a Christmas play in autumn. A bold choice, given the cool change of season. Throughout the performance, Harpour’s directorial style was simple. It is clear that she focused on the language and dictation of the script. While there wasn’t much emphasis on character blocking, the dialogue created a nice rhythm to the performance.

The set design perfectly encapsulated the essence of each character. From a neglected home to modern architectural grandeur, the attention to detail regarding colour and material style was admirable. It was clear that the production team had fun creating this set.

At times, the usage of stage props was questionable and drew unwanted attention to the DIY mise-en-scene of the set. Eugene’s self-embodied puppet head and the supposedly grand light display were both lacklustre moments for the audience. The action surrounding these moments became relatively static and awkward as a result. This could have been overcome by including colourful lighting and audio design. Regardless of these moments, Harpour’s directorial approach to the production was in keeping with the original themes of the script.

The cast delivered respectable performances. Amanda Lay was a standout in her roles as Svetlana and Marti. Her facial expressions and tough Russian accent carried the show, and she delivered two perfectly rounded and satirical characters that were unmatched by her co-stars.

Ronan Mason was naïve yet charming in his role as Foster. His stage presence was lively and well-conceived. Sammy Jo Toussaint Guild presented a sweet and innocent Demoiselle. Perfectly paired with Mason, the two brought youthful chemistry to the stage.

Dennis Walsh played Foster’s drongo father, Bob, with conviction and despite some fumbled lines, he delivered a wholesome performance.

Trevor Sammon delivered two contrasting characters – the energetic and harsh Russian debt collector, Gustave and the sweet and homely, Eugene. His performance was entertaining and charismatic.

Rounding out the cast, Anna Bober played a nosey neighbourhood prude, Mrs Slade. She is to be commended on her comedic timing.

Filled with Aussie cliches and old-timey humour, ‘Summer Wonderland’ was a spirited night out at the theatre.

‘Summer Wonderland’ performed until May 15 at the Donald Simpson Community Centre. For more information visit the MATES Theatre Gensis website.

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