As they straggled into the Bakehouse Theatre, the small audience was met by a montage of television advertisements. It was a fitting taster of the 1950s Australia to be explored by Dorothy Hewett’s This Old Man Comes Rolling Home.
The house lights dimmed, the advertisements were exchanged for tunes of yesteryear, and a stagehand thundered through the auditorium to remove the projector and screen. This bizarre five minutes of bumbling all but crippled the opening scene.
Director Ross Vosvotekas writes, “Hewett’s play shows us, as Australians, where we’ve come from”. Through the eyes of a family gripped by dysfunction and despair, This Old Man does indeed provide an insight into 1950s working class Australia. However, it is difficult to affirm the play’s present and future relevance.
Family dysfunction is a relatively universal and relatable theme, but almost everything else (alcoholism, poverty, marriage, politics) is depicted to garish extremity. A modern audience is left bewildered and alienated.
The mediocrity represented by the Dockerty family is itself embodied by this particular staging of the play. The blocking and scene transitions are clumsy, the audience are deafened by the actors’ penchant for yelling, and some of the most important dialogue is spoken with little conviction.
Blossoming to ruins, the most compelling subplot was delivered by Amy Victoria Brooks (Fay) and Graham Self (Don). Both characters were satisfactorily handled and developed despite the short timeline. It was this investment by Brooks and Self that was so impressive.
Considering its near two and a half hour duration, the reasonably priced wine on sale in the theatre foyer would definitely be a blessing even for the most prudish audience member.