PHILLIP Aughey's play The Exchange will move into new territory when it begins a season at Newcastle's Playhouse on March 15.
Since The Exchange had its premiere at Branxton's Royal Federal Hotel in November 2001, it has primarily played in pubs and clubs.
While many of the performances have been one-night stands in country town pubs, even its 22-performance sell-out season at the Adelaide Fringe Festival in 2004 was in a hotel.
And when it was staged in Sydney's Newtown Theatre in 2005, the actors performed in the bar area at the front of the theatre.
The Newcastle Playhouse season will see The Exchange performed in a 200-seat auditorium.
But the intimacy of the venue will allow those watching to enjoy the antics of the play's two old-timers who are the only customers in a country pub called The Exchange somewhere in the middle of nowhere on a Saturday afternoon.
The retired men, former boundary rider Cyril and one-time shearer Toby, drink, argue and joke as they wait for night to come, with both expecting something big to happen in the pub as darkness falls.
The bored young barman, Ron, eavesdrops on their conversations and occasionally voices an opinion - not that it's always welcome. Phil Aughey, a former Branxton resident who moved late last year to Tamworth, based the play on his experiences working in his early 20s in 1981 as a shearing shed roustabout near a small Queensland town called Muttaburra.
The farm workers headed to the Muttaburra pub on Saturdays but for most of the rest of the week there was just a handful of regulars in the bar.
Aughey wrote the play's first draft in the late 1980s and a 1991 reading of a later version at Sydney's Griffin Theatre - a venue which specialises in Australian works - so impressed the theatre's artistic director that he planned to include it in his 1992 program.
However, a new artistic director was appointed and he opted for a different set of plays. The play's eventual premiere at the Branxton Royal Federal Hotel in 2001 developed from a conversation Aughey had with the publican about dinner theatre shows.
The play, staged by Anvil Creek Theatre, a company established by Aughey, was so popular that the planned season of three performances grew into nine.
The following year, it had seasons at several Hunter venues, including the Commonwealth Hotel at Cooks Hill. It has now played 108 performances, predominantly with Hunter actors.
The Newcastle Playhouse season has eight shows between March 15 and 20, with the schedule after that including a performance at Murrurundi's White Hart Hotel on March 24 and a planned tour of Murray River townships in April.
There is no end to the play's life in sight. Aughey attributes the play's success to three things. It is decidedly Australian in setting and mood; audiences relate to the characters readily; and it is very funny. He could have added a fourth attribute.
His writing and direction have made the ordinary extraordinary. The two old-timers might spend their days talking about nothing that's weighty but audiences come away thinking about the things their conversations touch on: friendship, loneliness, getting old and thinking young.
Phil Aughey plays Cyril. The role of his sparring partner, Toby, will be played at different performances at the Playhouse by Brad Burgess and Leof Kingsford-Smith, with Greg Gorton and Matt McFarlane alternating as barman Ron.
It is decidedly Australian in setting and mood; audiences relate to the characters readily; and it is very funny.