Another year on and The Vegemite Tales is back again, reinstalled at The Venue, Leicester Square, to give antipodeans a three-month blast of homesickness and the rest of us an amusing fly-on-the-wall insight into the workings of one of London’s biggest – defiantly migrant – ex-pat communities.
Some of the same familiar faces are back for the latest run. All the cast are extremely tight and work well together - they look like they’re having such a great time up on the stage that their energy rubs off infectiously onto the audience. Blair McDonough and Jonathon Dutton – Aussie stars from TV’s Neighbours and Two Pints of Lager (and a Packet of Crisps) respectively - make the evening go with a hoot.
Vegemite may be an acquired taste, but this fun production makes it widely palatable for a young audience, whether they hail from Down Under or not. It’s not deep – Shakespeare it definitely ain’t – but there’s plenty to relate to and laugh at.
- Ryan Woods
NOTE: The following THREE-STAR review dates from August 2006 and this production’s previous run at The Venue.
Vegemite is becoming a regular offering in London. After runs at the Old Red Lion and Riverside Studios in the past couple of years, you now have a chance to sample The Vegemite Tales once more at The Venue in Leicester Square.
In comedy terms Melanie Tait’s play touches many bases. It clearly owes a lot to Friends, a fact director Bill Buckhurst highlights by using snippets of the series’ incidental music. The set up is familiar, following a group of twentysomething housemates and the (often sexual) antics they get up to. The difference from the US sitcom is that this lot are Australians who live in London and speak in strings of expletives.
The play ostensibly deals in racial stereotypes and this works best - from a comic view - with the character of Gio, the Italian housemate, whose basic function is to get laughs from mispronouncing swear words. Andy Leonard’s performance is wonderful, reminiscent of Manuel from Fawlty Towers, minus the physical gags.
It’s no surprise that The Vegemite Tales is being developed for TV. The short scenes and quick pay-offs are very televisual; filmed clips are even used as a framing device with some Wayne’s World-style flashbacks. There’s also a lot of ‘direct-to-camera’ addresses cum Ally McBeal, unnecessary to my mind but justified by Sam’s early assertion that, although most Aussie houses have four bedrooms and a dozen inhabitants, this one has only one dosser: Eddie. So the audience is turned into those other missing housemates.
Tait tries to make the form reflect the content, and as a ‘serious’ sub-plot develops a third of the way in, the comedy makes way for scenes of high drama which don’t sit comfortably within the play’s puerile antics. Despite inconsistencies in the script, the actors are all incredibly enthusiastic and make light of moving from one style to another.
It’s interesting to consider that, while theatres up and down the country struggle to attract ‘minority audiences’, The Vegemite Tales does just that. It may not be a minority audience ‘of colour’, but this play has managed to tap a niche nonetheless – probably not an audience who are regular theatregoers - and give them exactly what they want.
Received wisdom is you either love or hate Marmite. But with The Vegemite Tales, it’s impossible to be absolutist because the whole thing is approached with such a sense of fun. Ultimately, whatever I think about the piece, it’s clear my antipodean neighbours in the audience adored it.
- Hannah Kennedy
NOTE: The following THREE-STAR review dates from June 2005 and this production’s run at west London’s Riverside Studios.
Strange how potent nostalgia for yeast extract can be. Anyone who has delivered a shipment of Marmite to ex-pat Brits will understand the piquancy of this title featuring its Australian equivalent.
Six west London flat-mates and a frequent visitor, all but one from Oz, booze away the threat of homesickness and play out caricatures of young folks from Down Under. One even sleeps on his surfboard, still festooned in bubble-wrap just as it came through customs into a cold country without winners (except in rugby), where the girls put on weight and the boys lose muscle tone. The messy flat (designed by Tamasin Rhymes) is merely a staging post, its walls decorated with postcards from elsewhere.
Proceedings begin with the first of several brilliant video clips, in which Sam’s mum wishes him a Happy New Year and encourages him to come home. She cannot understand how anyone could choose grey Britain over the golden Antipodes. It would be possible to describe The Vegemite Tales as a rite-of-passage play, or to claim that it deals with the dynamics of friendship or the way nations (and sexes) caricature each other.
All of this would be to some extent true, but writer Melanie Tait’s main purpose is to entertain those far from their warm, sporty, surf-boarding home. Judging by the show’s legendary fringe success and the whoops of delighted recognition on its latest press night, she seems to have succeeded.
Billed as an answer to Friends and numbering a star of Home and Away (Ben Steel) in its cast, the piece wears its soap credentials on its sleeve. The characters are broad-brush funny, from Sarah Hadland’s bitchy Jane (a citizen of snooty Melbourne) holding her nose at the domestic habits of the men, to super-stud Dan (Steel) who counts his conquests in dozens but gets the droop with virginal Maddie (tiny, earnest Sarah McGlade) whom he really likes. Bodily functions and fluids are a constant feature of conversation.
Bill Buckhurst directs a knowing, good-natured show, blithely sending up itself and its subject matter. There are a couple of rip-roaring sequences, especially Tom Sangster as luckless Eddie energetically preparing for a hot date, complete with sock-stuffed Y-fronts and a black-tie t-shirt. And there’s one moment of real emotion involving Gemma (Jessica Gerger) which momentarily silences the guffaws.
The play ends with the happy return of Sam (Andrew Robb) to Sydney, belatedly facing up to adult life in the sunshine. As it happens, Ms Tait is there too, having made her mark in the prissy old UK.
- Heather Neill