21 April - 26 May 2012, Playhouse, The Arts Centre, Melbourne.
Starring: Valerie Bader, Kaeng Chan, David James, Peter Kowitz, Geoff Morrell, Alison Whyte
Directed by Richard Cottrell
Written by Jonathan Biggins
Australia Day follows the progress of the Australia Day Planning Committee in the country town of Coriole as they endeavour to plan a ceremony that caters to both tradition and the multicultural aspects of the community. Not everyone can triumph as committee members including the local Mayor (Morrell), a Greens Councillor (Whyte), an Australian-born Vietnamese school teacher (Chan), a CWA member (Bader), a country hick (Kowitz) and a community do-gooder (James) all have contrasting opinions on what it means to be Australian and how the day should run.
As the day draws nearer the committee meetings are held in the local primary school staff room. Tempers rise as not only the colouring competition occupies their minds, but also blackmail and alliances between Council committee members. The day arrives and alas, all that could go wrong does go wrong.
Australia Day encapsulates all that is small and country. It reminds me of my own Australia Day experience a couple of years ago. The day started with not enough people arriving to set the chairs up, and then during the ceremony a clumsy Mayor presented citizenship awards to people with names he could not pronounce. Concluding with the "Sing Australia" choir and a sausage sizzle, it fit right into the Australia Day stereotype that Biggins depicts.
To keep the energy up audience members are entertained during the scene changes by various different recorded greetings on the answering machine. This may seem daggy, but director Richard Cottrell definitely knows how to execute simple gags.
A highlight of the performance was actor Peter Kowitz, recognized for his most recent role in the television series Crownies. From barrister to bogan, Kowitz demonstrates how versatile he really is.
Hypocritical through and through, Kowtiz’s role as Wally may hit a bit close to home as playwright Biggins captures in a single man an aging community set in their ways and determined to retain the beer-and-snag tradition. Biggins also teaches us that appearances are only skin deep, as even Wally has experienced a personal loss that audience members will find touching.
Drawing on his own experiences as an Australia Day ambassador, Biggins pokes fun at our national identity with Aussie good humour. Biggins himself is an actor, singer, writer and comedian. He has appeared on film, stage, and television, performing in everything from Hamlet on Ice to radio works such as Noah’s Ark. His stage appearances include The Importance of Being Earnest (inheriting the role of John Worthing from Geoffrey Rush) and most recently his performance in MTC's Not Quite Out of the Woods. And just when you thought he had done it all, in 2010 he received the Halpmann Award for best Direction of a Musical.
Australia Day is a true Aussie comedy that exposes what it really means to be Australian.
3 out of 5.
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