Hull Truck Theatre’s final season in its Spring Street home before moving to opulent new premises consists mainly of revivals of popular successes, ending with Bouncers early in 2009. Ladies Down Under arrives at Spring Street in November after an extended Autumn tour. However, judging from the performance at York Theatre Royal, it’s not likely to be one of the highlights of the season.
Amanda Whittington’s play is a sequel to Ladies’ Day which often transcended its formulaic basis (four Hull fish-filleters have a posh day out at the races and fun, frolics and tears ensue) with genuine humanity. Ladies Down Under stays resolutely superficial. The same four characters, having won a small fortune at the races, head for a holiday in Australia, determined to “live the dream”. Jan plans to meet her boyfriend and former supervisor, Joe, but he is detained by a bush-fire, so all four go to a luxury beach resort, then to Ayers Rock, then to Sydney’s Gay Pride Mardi Gras. They have chance meetings and each in turn has her epiphany or Shirley Valentine moment before the happy endings, both probable and improbable, are handed round.
Too much of the first half relies on the audience being amused by the worries of inexperienced flyers (from toilets to stop-overs) and by oddly dressed women meeting strange chaps on the beach. The one-liners follow a predictable pattern, even the intonation and speech-patterns of the four women sounding shrilly similar. In the second half, which seeks to deal more in real characters and situations, transformations, flare-ups and reconciliations occur too abruptly to be believable.
Certainly, in the intimate Hull Truck, I would expect Lucy Beaumont, Sue McCormick, Annie Sawle and Jemma Walker to make more impact and relate more closely to the audience than to me in the back row of the Theatre Royal’s circle, but only Beaumont, nicely understated as the naively generous innocent of the party, manages to transcend her cliché. Oddly, the most comic of the transformations is the only one that is at all moving. Martin Barrass and Damien Warren-Smith competently run through a series of stock characterisations, though neither fully seizes the opportunity for excess offered by the Mardi Gras.
Gareth Tudor Price’s production never quite gets round the problem of the lack of real action and the York stage does no favours to Richard Foxton’s minimal, if adaptable, set. Both Foxton’s costume designs and Graham Kirk’s lighting, however, do much to bring the evening to life.