150-hat-title'The Exchange Hotel' is a play in two acts written by Phillip Aughey. It began its Sydney run at the Palace Hotel at Mortlake on Wednesday 12 June and will play there again on these Wednesdays: 26 June, 3 July, 10 July and 17 July.

The play involves three characters and is set in the bar of a far western country hotel. Two retired rural workers, Cyril, played by Phillip Aughey and Toby, played by Wayne Van Keren, meet, talk, reminisce, argue and drink, whiling away the time in a town where there is nothing else to do. They are served by the pub's only employee Ron, played by Jonathon Poynter. Ron is mainly tolerant towards Cyril and Toby, finally realizing that he too has nothing much to do and nowhere much to go. This is the realisation and ultimately the bond he shares with his argumentative patrons. They are all waiting in the expectation of finding nothing. In that sense, the play has a lot of elements of Beckett's 'Waiting for Godot'.

The dialogue presents an accurate and sympathetic understanding of the situation and is spiced with rye humour. All conversations are punctuated with a discussion about who's turn it is to buy the next drink. The play is comic yet, at the same time, tragic and thus in the best traditions of comic theatre It is universal in that it deals with life trailing away as senility or death looms large. The actors Jonathon Poynter and Wayne Van Keren are NIDA trained while Phillip Aughey, the author and also the smelly, untidy, urine-stained character Cyril, has a degree with a major in Theatre. The acting is convincing and the delivery clear, skilfully encapsulating the spoken and philosophical idiom of a bush pub.

The play itself is worth going to the Palace Hotel. However it is only part of the package that provides a three course meal served in a room with real character. The cost is $45 per head. Dinner is enjoyed from 7 o'clock and the play begins about 8. Sweets are served between the two acts. Sue and Steve’s Ginty's Palace Hotel at Mortlake also has another surprise for patrons. It has one of the best selections of wines available in Sydney and these can be purchased in the Bistro at bottle department prices.

Finally, on two future play nights, there will be a wine tasting before dinner. On Wednesday 26 June, Hunter Valley whites and reds will be surveyed. Then on 10 July, wines from Tintilla Vineyard, also in the Hunter, will be available for tasting. Tintilla wines are made under the watchful eye of Professor Bob Lusby, Head of Sydney University’s Clinical Unit at Concord Hospital. You probably didn't realise that Mortlake has a cultural underbelly. Which is as close to an outback pub as you can get without leaving the parklands. The price of admission includes a two course meal and you are quickly served a lovely Caesar salad. Then the trio of actors transports you to the pub of a dusty town "somewhere in the middle of nowhere".

Review by Gregory Blaxell