As Australians, were all-too-familiar with the myth: though the overwhelming majority of us live on the fertile coastal fringe, in congested cities, many of us were milk fed the laconic, clear air of the outback.
The Exchange by Phil Aughey, has just wrapped up, in the foyer of Newtown Theatre; converted, for the purpose, quite convincingly, into a veritable bush pub. Newtown is far from the back o' Bourke, let alone beyond the black slump, yet we're effectively transported to the middle-of-bloody-nowhere (well, Muttaburra, if you must know, or if it makes any difference!), as three blokes many of us are bound to recognise, take to the stage, and the bar, for a comedy drier than a dead dingo's donger!
An astute chide leaned over and murmured, "It's the antipodean Waiting for Godot", or words to that effect, as if to take the words right out of my mouth! Nothing ever happens here, and it'd be a bleedin' travesty if it did!
There's something at once consoling and terrifying about the abject lack of happenings in the nondescript nothing-town we inhabit, at least for the duration of the performance. This is no town and everytown; nowhere and everywhere you've ever been, in this wide, brown, unforgiving land. And this is a well-travelled play, having toured over 20 country venues (75 sell-out performances, from Branxton to Bourke, Geuri to Griffith, Walgett, to Wee Waa!) and what is, arguably, also Australia's premiere arts event, the Adelaide festival, it's a pity the Sydney preview season had to be so limited.
A baggy-faced, retired shearer, a semi-lane ringer and a lonely, but resigned, young barman have come to rightly expect never-ending nothingness, they are the last word in living, breathing existentialism! Putting-up a few Streamers and a modicum of confusion about invitations and arrivals, though, invites expectation that this Saturday night might bring surprise. It doesn't, of course, which, again isn't so much disappointing, as strangely reassuring.
The characters are instantly identifiable, it's as if we've all not only met them, but know them, well, even if weve never, actually, met them; we might recognize them from the pub, railway-station, park-bench, or a Henry Lawson poem; it's almost as if they could be members of our own family, they ring with such familiarity!
The premise, and script, is, of course, quintessentially, self-deprecatingly and, thus, charmingly, heart-warmingly, incorrigibly, unmistakably, unavoidably 'Aussie', hawing started life in the Royal Federal Hotel, Branxton, three years ago and having toured rural town and country pubs and clubs, much as the old shearers it so redolently portrays would've.
Writer (and director!) Phil Aughey, who also acts in the piece, alongside Gary McLean and Brad Burgess, is a communications graduate, from Charles Start University; yet these credentials are as nothing, against the backdrop of his growing-up, on a farm, outside Griffith, on the NSW Hay Plain. Aughey proves to be the dinky-di article, in the aforementioned roles, but also as a former shearer himself, he drove 'round Australia, in 1981, and claims to have met the people that inhabit his story. There's no doubting it! Even if pure invention, these blokes are palpably real! Little wonder The Exchange has been so enthusiastically received, in dozens of venues, right around the state, and in 22 packed-to-the-rafters performances at the Adelaide Festival alone! We can but hope for a full return season, for us mob, out here, precariously positioned on the edge of this reality?
Lets hope so!
Review Thurs 13 Oct 2005 Triple-r fm 88.5 rude, radical radio. Well ,ryde regional. By Braddo; presenter - Braddo’s Brekky Serial, 6-8 Thursdays, the antidote to Alan Jones