Down Under is Paul Hodsonís third adaptation of a Bill Bryson travel book following on from Notes from a Small Island and The Lost Continent. In this book, a number one best seller, Bill Bryson turns his gaze on to Australia, touring from west to east, south to north and all the interesting bits in-between.
Starting in Perth, we are taken by train to Sydney then round the south east coast, up to the Gold Coast and finally on the ubiquitous trip from Darwin to Alice Springs and on to Ayres Rock. As we go we are presented with the people Bryson met on his journey, the things that excited, frightened, annoyed and amused him.
I was curious to see how a travel book would be adapted for the stage, whether it would hold my interest. I need not have had concerns. Hodsonís adaptation retains the humour and broad spread of the book with enough of the humorous bits to keep us laughing but not so many that it becomes a comedy sketch. Add to that, Steve Steenís terrific delivery and you have a very entertaining evening. Steen has been the performer for each of Hodsonís Bryson adaptations and there is an ease to the delivery that helps keep the evening flowing without falling into the wordiness of a lecture.
A simple set works to complement the evening, providing a map with enough hints to let us know where is being talked about. Steenís ability and experience as a mimic comes into play with just enough physical acting to carry us along with the stories without becoming a distraction.
There is a clear confidence to this production. The writer/director and performer seem of one mind, producing a clean, natural show full of interest. It is like having an interesting raconteur round to dinner and sitting comfortably after the meal whilst they recount tales of exploration, punctuated with amusing characters and simple, but clever, insights. To have created such a sense in a venue the size of the New Theatre (Oxford) is quite a feat. If you want frenetic activity on stage go elsewhere, if you want a good night out that will amuse and entertain, give this a go, youíll be happy you did.
- Robert Iles (Reviewed at the New Theatre Oxford)