Review: Summer of the Seventeenth Doll

Published on May 13, 2018
Categories - Blog, Event Review, Read About

There is no doubt that Summer of the Seventeenth Doll is an Australian theatrical classic. Though at age 97, Ray Lawler claims this masterpiece could still do with some tweaks, for today’s audiences the themes of complex relationships, life changes and Aussie mateship are as spot on today as they were when Lawler himself played Roo back in 1955.

Under the direction of award-winning director Adam Mitchell, and featuring stellar performances by an impressive cast, Black Swan Theatre Company’s latest offering is definitely an audience pleaser. My last experience of this play was well over 20 years ago as an English Lit student, and I felt it all rushing back as the characters stepped onto the stage.

Set designer Bruce McKinven has brought the 1950s to life with historical accuracy and technical expertise. Housed in the stunning Heath Ledger Theatre, the scene was set for one of the most popular Australian plays of all time.

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll is not a light-hearted play – it is an intense and powerful commentary on the interplay between romantic couples and friendships forged over 17 years. Add to that the questions that arise around male and female roles and what constitutes a meaningful life, as well as the impact of inevitable change, and this play is as relevant today as it was when it was first performed on the boards in the 1950s.

Black Swan’s Artistic Director Clare Watson said, “This particular work, in this particular city, resonates probably more than it ever has before, because so many people are touched by the FIFO experience.”

“And that’s essentially what this play is about – Two cane-cutters who return to their women at the end of each cutting season. It absolutely looks at the role of masculinity and their sense of worth around their work, but also how it relates to their downtime. That’s been the cultural experience of so many people in this State,” Watson explains.

The cast brings us not only an accurate picture of 50s culture and challenges but also a reflection on modern life. Highly-acclaimed WA actor Kelton Pell is the first Aboriginal man to play the lead role of Roo. Bubba, played by Mackenzie Dunn, led the audience through her evolution from a young, child-like character to a woman faced with adult choices.

Amy Matthews as Olive pulls the audience in and holds them on the edge of their seats for the entire 2+ hours alongside Jacob Allan, Alison Van Reeken and Michael Cameron. The production is interspersed with comedic lines, most memorably delivered by Vivienne Garret as Emma.

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll is playing until 20 May 2018 as part of Black Swan’s ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’, paired with the subversive and gender-bending American kitchen sink drama Hir by Taylor Mac, playing until 27 May. Tickets can be purchased here.

Sharon Pegrum

Images: Summer Of The Seventeenth Doll. BSSTC Production, Heath Ledger Theatre, Perth WA. Photography by Philip Gostelow.

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