Set in the fictitious town of Coriole, Australia Day is a hilariously funny and biting satirical play centred around the Coriole Australia Day Committee as they prepare for the annual Australia Day celebrations.
Brian Harrigan (Geoff Kelso) is the mayor of Coriole, but is seeking Liberal preselection to fulfil his aspirations for parliament. Brian also owns the local hardware store and is concerned about the impact on his family business if Bunnings is successful in their application to build a store nearby. Also with parliamentary aspirations of her own is Helen McInnes (Sharon Davis) who has moved to Coriole from Melbourne with hopes of being more successful in the Greens party in a country town. Both are ambitious and willing to bend a few rules to achieve their goals. Caught in the middle of the saga that develops between these two is deputy mayor, Robert Wilson (David James) who is torn between supporting his friend and sticking to the rules.
A long-standing tension is apparent between Helen and local builder (and your typical Aussie bloke), Wally Stewart (Dennis Coard). Wally is outspoken and opinionated and doesn’t like Helen.
Two final members add a great deal of warmth and humour to the committee. Marie Bucknell (Robyn Arthur) is the local CWA president and is quite content to continue with the usual traditions each year. Chester Lee (Kenneth Moraleda) is the “flamboyant, but not gay”, Australian-born son of Vietnamese refugees (not Chinese) and local grade six school teacher, nominated by his school to participate on the committee.
Jonathan Biggins wrote Australia Day after, what he describes, several tours of duty as an Australia Day Ambassador through regional NSW. This personal experience and insight has resulted in a story that, while full of laughs, has some biting home truths that audiences can readily identify with. With references to the television show Kingswood Country, parenting and the education system this show will particularly appeal to those in the 40+ age group. Although Australia Day is set in a country town the story could just as easily have been set in a local, suburban municipality.
The experienced cast all play off each other with ease, each bringing different elements to the story, each delivering a superb and very believable performance. The play is packed with clever insights into Australian culture, the politics of local government and generational differences – some so spot on they received a huge spontaenous round of applause from the audience. The script is available for purchase from the box office and it would be worth buying just to go back through and read some of these insightful comments and biting one-liners.
There is a predictable plot twist that the audience anticipates will happen, but the ultimate unfolding of this event is perhaps a little too easy and almost implausible. However, this would be the only flaw in an otherwise well written and well performed story.
The quality and detailed set, designed by Shaun Gurton, looks every bit the interior of any country town’s scout hall. Lighting design by Jason Bovaird complements the scene and sound design by Chris Hubbard works well. Wardrobe by Kelsey Henderson suits each character and the frequent costume changes not only serve to highlight the number of meetings attended but also the changes in seasons and passage of time.
Australia Day is a cleverly written play, filled with biting satire that delivers more than just a lot of laughs. Watch it, laugh hysterically and go away after a fun night of entertainment or sit down later and really unpack the satire and the statements being made about Australia. If you decide on the latter, buy the script and allow yourself a lot of time to really dig deep; this play is packed full of gems … some a little sharper than others.