History says that musicals can be about anything and anyone from anytime. And still, it seems as if the biggest challenge for the writers and producers of Once We Lived Here is to capture the full attention of an audience in London whose daily concerns probably do not stretch to the grind of the Australian outback.
For my money, the show just about gets there although possibly not until after the interval when the drama starts to unfold and score is at its most energised, original and profane. The first act opens to the attractive but downbeat "All Roads Lead To Home". If one were to take the opening of Oklahoma! and reverse the optimism and major keys, this might be the result. Immediately the scene is set for sadness and anti-climax: Mother is ill and Dad is long dead; there is no returning unequivocal hero; and there is decay and decline in the air and sadness in the score.
There is however a central, complex and teasing love affair to ponder and sufficient interest in the script and the score to see past the occasional cliche. Every performance in this show is genuine and quite original. Amy, played lovingly by Melle Stewart is the girl from the farm next door who can't let go of the dream of the homestead. Iestyn Arwel plays the kid in search of direction and Belinda Wollaston gets all of the best lines as the girl who left for the city only to return with more pretension than security. Simone Craddock is tender as their frail mother and Shaun Rennie is a convincing as the wanderer who returns to find meaning amongst the corrugated iron wilting cattle.
The set and the staging is clever. The setting and the story is authentic and original without ever quite being entirely gripping. But importantly, a big part the Australian story of the past and of the present is told through some memorable numbers and performances.