The Queensland Theatre Company (QTC) presents a Belvoir Production, a timeless classic: ‘The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll’. Audience members were pulled by their heartstrings into the unique and painfully haunting story of working class Queenslanders in the 1950s.
As each scene unravelled before the audiences’ eyes, the room seemed to permeate with a heavy sense of anticipation for the drama to unfold, piece by piece. More than fifty years on, the problems faced by each of the characters and the questions they hold close to their hearts, are just as relevant to our society and haunt us in a similar way to the skeletons in our closets now.
Olive (Alison Whyte) – “I just want things to go back to the way they used to be”; tearfully imploring her love of 17 years, Roo, to “give me back what you’ve taken from me all of these years!” This harrowing scene between the couple is a reminder of the longing we may feel at some stage of our lives of reliving our past and escaping the overwhelming pressures of life in the 21st century. Life was indeed simpler and easier in the 1950s!
Roo (Steve Le Marquand) – “I’m just not man enough to handle it; that young bloke Dowd is better than me!” This dramatic scene (you could cut through the tension with a knife!) is a reminder of the deep-rooted pride we may become ruled by at certain times in our lives. We may have been the best at something and others worshipped the very ground we walked upon, once upon a time. It’s hard to swallow, finding yourself in the shadow of another, especially when he/she is so much younger and more able than yourself!
Barney (Travis McMahon) – “I’m not the man I used to be; the only woman I cared for has married off and is gone for good.” Ah, that paralysing moment of heartbreak when you discover that the great love of your life has found another and you can no longer be a part of his/her life. One of the hardest things a broken heart can face is accepting that people can fall in and out of love with you, and unpredictably so. That beautiful song ‘Break even’ by The Script comes to mind: ‘What am I gonna do when the best part of me was always you? What am I supposed to say when I’m all choked up and you’re okay? I’m falling to pieces…’coz when a heart breaks no it don’t break even…’
Pearl (Helen Thomson) – “I need to be a decent woman at all times and make sure my daughter has a better life than I have.” What parent doesn’t want the absolute best for his/her child? I’m not sure that I know of any parents who don’t worry that their child may end up like them when they ‘come of age’. This anxiety turns into a desperate attempt to do everything in their motherly or fatherly power to bring their child up in the ‘right way’ – well, whatever the ‘right’ way to bring up a child is.
Bubba (Eloise Winestock) – “I want a chance to have what Olive and Roo had for 17 years.” Yes, we’ve all coveted, or at the very least, hoped for another’s relationship at one point or another. It might have been our best friend, neighbour, colleague, an acquaintance, or even a distant relative. Ah, to have that chance at what we thought at the time was a picture of what love is supposed to be.
Johnnie Dowd (James Hoare) – “I want the gang to see me as a man and not a boy.” Dowd’s struggle is a reminder of wanting to break free from an identity that others have formed about you, which has stuck and is continually being reinforced. The truth is, this sense of who you are is completely inaccurate and self-esteem-destroying, and you set about doing everything you can to reclaim and prove your true self. Easier said than done, right?
Emma (Robyn Nevin) – “I’ve been around for long enough to know what goes on around here and the only thing to be sure of is that time changes things, and you need to change with the time. You’re not 17 anymore.” This poignant scene was the calming breeze amongst the tension and tantrums; the all-knowing mother’s two cents when the child’s naïveté has made him/her flat-broke (figuratively and literally speaking).
The dysfunctional relationships between these characters were painfully familiar and easily hit a heart-string (or two). Case in point: two girlfriends agreeing to disagree about the way they perceive each other’s lives; two mates sticking it out together through thick and thin; a dependent mother and daughter who drive each other mad, yet cannot function without each other; the colourful beginnings of young love.
Overall the play was a brilliantly woven story, laced with the perfect balance of humour and drama. The heart-aching and depressingly realistic ending was a bittersweet flourish, which left the audience holding back tears while loudly applauding to show deep appreciation for a riveting drama. We highly recommend seeing Summer of the Seventeenth Doll; just don’t expect a happy ending. After all, life isn’t always about sunshine and rainbows; more often than not, it’s about weathering the rainstorms with the people you love.
On Now till 11 Mar 2012 at Playhouse, QPAC. Tickets here: http://www.qpac.com.au/event_dates/Summer_Seventeenth_Doll_12.aspx
Tickets range from $33 – $79. Duration: 2 hours and 50 minutes with 2 15 minutes intervals.
CraftGossip attended the show courtesy of Queensland Theatre Company.
By Shellie Wilson
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