Summer Street is an Aussie soap opera musical written and directed by Andrew Norris, and, on this occasion, performed in a railway arch a million miles from the sunny down under climate we are used to seeing in that TV genre, writes Carolyn Hart Taylor.
Andrew, has taken that period throughout the 90s when TV was saturated with naively optimistic Australian soaps starring families that – even had a serial killer been at large – as long as the sun shone, the sea shimmered, and beautiful tanned bodies strutted about, a dead corpse was no reason to cancel the barbie. Now, with the passage of time, aged cast members find themselves in 2003, still auditioning for innocuous story lines.
That scenario provides opportunity for numerous comedic clichés which the players give their all to fulfil but, sadly, the parody leaves a deafening silence that is bewildering and uncomfortable.
Pogo, the stuffed dog, a nod to Skippy the kangaroo’s ability to communicate better than a polyglot was a good call. However, with time comedy transforms, the once funny becomes tinny, resulting in the cast desperately attempting to inject humour into situations as hollow as egg shells.
Aussie TV soaps had innocent story lines that contrastied with our lived experience of reality, and alongside our cynicism their unselfconsciousness proved funny. Rehashing their childlike quality in Summer Street loses the point. We laughed spontaneously at the originals due to the absurdity – an ironic happy by-product that provided extra entertainment for viewers. Attempting to squeeze mileage out of that initial reaction is a big task, resulting in comedy that feels disingenuous and forced onto the audience.
However, all those involved strove to do it justice, springing into action throughout the second half, resulting in confident performances and singing with gusto. In their own right, the actors delivered good performances, but were limited by material. Fortuitously, Angie, played by Sarah-Louise Young, tells us, ‘The stigma of soap, it’s like a chain around my neck’.
In an attempt to find meaning, the twist at the end may redeem things a little.
One for those open to the absurdity of the absurd.
Waterloo East Theatre, Brad St, Waterloo, SE1 8TN until 2nd June. Times: 7.30pm; Sun matinee 4pm. Admission: £21.50, £18.50.
Photos: Credit Simon Snashall.