Dinkum Assorted, directed by Hannah Bird (who also established Grover Theatre Company in 2015), proves that a well-written script and genuine, wholesome performances make for an evocative and endearing show.
As the audience entered the black box theatre, six or seven women were sitting at a table on stage in animated conversation. As a result of this earnest introduction into the world of Dinkum Assorted, I found myself impressed from the outset. Despite the overly gawky and bland black and white flats looming upstage, the ladies allowed us to be immersed into their world through believable conversations and genuine connections to their environment. Each woman possessed her own unique sensibility about her, and was identifiable via her clothing, the way she interacted with the other characters, and even the space. For example, with very few lines in the show, Edie (Louise Newton) was striking in red and commanding in her presence; a testament to the old saying, “There are no small parts, just small actors.”
Atmospheric 1940’s swing swooned throughout the space; a recurring theme later used to transition us from scene to scene. A soft white wash spilled onto the stage and slightly into the audience. Within that choice, I found the energy of the space resembled that of an aquarium; “are they talking about us watching them, or are we talking about them watching us?” Whether it was intentional or not, I felt like I was a part of their world in many ways. The actors’ use of space only contributed to this sense of involvement. Whether it was entries and exits through the audience, pulling a ‘stubborn goat’ from offstage so that only a taut rope was visible (and a sneaky stage manager’s hand), or the characters ‘looking out’ onto various locations like Quarry Hill (which they conveniently placed beyond the back row), engaging beyond what was physically present worked to the actors’ advantage when working with visual storytelling.
The importance of multi-faceted storytelling in this play was reinforced during the ladies’ fight to keep their biscuit factory afloat during the trying times of World War II. Grace (Jane Carter), the main matriarchal figure of Dinkum Assorted, established the ‘Air Raid Patrol’ group to protect her team from the dangers of Japanese attackers. One of the most comedic and effective moments involving staging in Dinkum Assorted was when the beautiful, bodacious, (and sometimes bratty) singing sisters, Rose (Harley Gabriel-Brown) and Vi (Georgie Mitchell), complained about their lack of loving male counterparts. Rose complained that Marvin (an American soldier stationed just outside of their town) had moved on. In response to this, aeroplane sound effects and colourful lights accompanied letters and gifts, which were thrown down to the girls from the ‘plane’ (i.e.: the theatre’s balcony.) Not only was this extremely effective staging-wise, but it was followed by a very serious and protective Grace who was prepared to gun down the ‘Japs’ whom she perceived as a threat to her and her girls. Many funny moments like this ensued, but if I list them all we will be here all day!
As the play unfolded we witnessed women who were torn between love, yearning, and the ‘hard yakka’ lifestyle that World War II inevitably presented.
However, they all shared one thing in common: undeniable strength.
Following this realisation, solemn solo piano invited us into the second act, and the ladies donned black attire to signify their mourning. In a heart-wrenching moment of frankness, Grace hit the nail on the head with a sense of underlying dread for her husband’s welfare, stating that by this point she was “just marking time.”
Finding themselves conflicted in their circumstances, we witnessed each woman wonder, “Do we fight to keep the produce flowing and ensure the ‘boys’ have homes to come back to? Or do we acquiesce and let the government sell us out and hopefully move on to greener pastures?”
Fabulous embodiments of these polar opposite reactions included the unyielding Connie (Jo Presser), and the discouraged Joan (Rhiannon Lacy). When city slicker Joan entered the biscuit factory, we saw Connie become guarded, protecting her hard work and dubbing Joan a ‘bitch’ as a means of defence. In saying this, whilst Connie’s treatment of Joan was uncouth, this was reversed when Connie found out Joan was struggling to care for her 8-year-old child who was in boarding school. She then reached out to Joan, who quickly became used to being taken care of and fell into victimhood. This evolving dynamic highlights the complexities of the characters in Dinkum Assorted and the vast experience both women have as actresses. Particularly Jo Presser, who was utterly undeniable as Connie.
I will admit that whilst some shrieking or mumbling here and there stifled some plot points, this was overruled by the intimate and relatable connections that were shared throughout Dinkum Assorted. Hannah had clearly taken her time to indulge in character development and cultivating a real connection with the script; and it paid off!
In a brief interview after the show, cast member Georgie Mitchell verified the acting process, stating, “We did a lot of work connecting to each other! Warm ups involved interacting and improvising together…Hannah was actually in a production of Dinkum when she was younger, which is why she loves it so much, and I think we all felt the love when we got involved.”
This show is classified as community theatre, however it didn’t succumb to that title, and instead displayed a level of professionalism that is worth paying to see.