‘Farmer Will Swap Combine Harvester For Wife’ was outmoded.
Mates Theatre Genesis Inc. and Redland Museum have collaborated to present ‘Farmer Will Swap Combine Harvester For Wife.’ A comedy that is about exactly what it sounds like. The audience is initially treated to a meal surrounded by the museum’s fascinating displays of Australian history, a nice tone-setter for the show to come. As good as the meal was and as much as I loved the Redland Museum’s décor, the show itself was another story.
‘Farmer Will Swap Combine Harvester For Wife’ was written by Kingaroy-born author Hugh O’Brien and centres around a 59-year-old farmer, Cyril Evans. Evans runs a personal ad offering up a John Deere 9750 STS combine harvester in exchange for a wife (specifically of “breeding age”) so that he can sire an heir to carry on his family’s historical ownership of his farm. Vying for his heart are the much younger Skye Weston, his ex-fiancée Delmay Maydel, and the mysterious Roxanne “RoxFox” Foxton. Also in the mix are his scheming neighbour Gus Bell, and Skye’s ex-boyfriend Doug Dinnington.
The script is a comedy, however the jokes are very heavily tailored to a specific audience, to the point of exclusivity. It very much feels like a show written by a 60-year-old farmer trying to make other 60-year-old farmers (and no one else) laugh. As someone who did not fall into this demographic, I found the scripted jokes to be either painfully obvious or simply lazy. For example, much of the humour centring on the younger character Skye revolved around the older characters talking about a celebrity from the past, and Skye would reply with “Who are they?” and that would be the entire joke. Much of the other humour came from innuendo, but never anything especially raunchy or creative, usually just a straightforward joke about Viagra or the like.
A comedy that is only funny to some is not exactly criminal, but this script also takes an intense veer into dramatic territory midway through the second act. In a jarring choice, a domestic violence subplot is introduced. While the examination of it is not actively harmful, its inclusion in this otherwise goofy, unserious comedy is uncomfortable and off-putting. What’s more the discussion occurs between two characters that hadn’t even met each other up until this moment. Suddenly and inexplicably, a character that could be opening up to someone that they have developed a bond with is instead telling a complete stranger their darkest secrets. To the author’s credit, he doesn’t try to pepper these scenes with jokes, but even so, its inclusion at all is just not handled very well.
The script is not very good, that’s the point I am getting across here, but the script was written in 2008 by someone not involved in this production so it can’t be held against them too much.
Lighting and sound were serviceable. No significant hiccups occurred and there was a projector effect that was incorporated at various points that went off without issue. Unfortunately, these elements could have been used to bolster the comedy but instead often hindered it. The classical song ‘Morning Mood’ by Edvard Grieg played every time Cyril woke up, and rather than being mined for a joke or used for a short tone setter, it played all the way through a drawn-out morning routine and simply served as a standard cliché. Often sound effects and the aforementioned projector effect would simply slow the show down.
The show was all set in a room in Cyril’s house. Its scenery featured framed pictures of his relatives and photography of prickles, as well as some furniture. This was all called for in the script, and it served its purpose well. Despite being in the middle of a museum in Cleveland, the set very much captured the look of a country farmhouse’s interior.
Comedic timing was varied in this production and was often dependent on which actors were interacting. As a rule, a lot of scenes could have tightened their pace and diction was often poor. As a community theatre production, it’s tricky to place too much of an expectation on the cast, but I would’ve liked to see some bigger expressions to match the comedy style of the script. Even so, most of the issues came down to the material. I will say that the lead, Simon Tabrett, helped keep the show light-hearted and played Cyril with a sincerity that prevented him from seeming quite as despicable as he was written, and Jasmine Winstanley had some nice moments of pathos as Skye.
Criticising this show feels like walking into a bingo hall and telling everyone there that bingo is a boring waste of their time and energy. No matter how right you are, you’re still going to come across as an antisocial killjoy, and it doesn’t matter because the folks there enjoy it. I’m sorry to be the one doing that today, but ‘Farmer Will Swap Combine Harvester For Wife’ came across as a complete dud to me. I am glad, truly, that most of the audience enjoyed it. So if you think I’m a young smart aleck who’s smugly trying to ruin a good old-fashioned Australian comedy then by all means, catch this show on the weekend and prove me wrong. If nothing else, the meal was lovely.
‘Farmer Will Swap Combine Harvester For Wife’ performs until Sunday, 4 February 2024 at Redland Museum. For more information visit their website.