Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at aridhianderson.com.
An entertaining drama about family life and politics in 1975
It's Ron and Isobel's anniversary, and they've just come home from a romantic evening at the... circus. It was Ron's idea of course, and Isobel is up in arms about it. Their only son Jay (whom Isobel insists on calling "Jack", because that's the name she gave him) has chosen this night to come out to his parents about his sexuality, and that also has not gone down well. Although it's probably gone down about as well as it could have in 1975, which is when this play is set. To make matters worse, Ron has invited their new neighbours, the Slaters, around for supper, which causes further consternation - for Isobel, because she hates having to host visitors in a house without a kitchen, and for Ron, because Paul and Sandra Slater turn out to be staunch Liberal Party supporters, tickled pink about the recent dismissal of the Whitlam government.
Ron and Isobel by Anna Lall is a sweet and funny drama about family life and Australian politics in the 1970s. It is the story of two couples who spend one dramatic evening together in Ron and Isobel's unfinished home, outside their comfort zones, alternating between heated argument and deep catharsis, sometimes standing against their partners, and sometimes with. It's a play that transports you to an era where gender roles were more distinct, social values were more conservative, and people apologized for using strong language. These elements might make this play seem quaint and somewhat foreign to the younger people among a modern audience, however, the main characters and their very human struggles, frustrations, hopes, dreams, soft spots and sacrifices keep this play extremely relatable. That, and of course, the unchanging nature of politics, and the strong feelings that political debate has generated in people since time immemorial.
The deceptively simple set immediately grabs attention. There is little furniture in Ron and Isobel's living room. Where the kitchen ought to be, there are chalk-drawn outlines in the floor - a builder's floorplan that hasn't yet been translated from vision to reality. This peculiar yet unassuming set perfectly complements the dramatic, high-octane script. A similar contrast is seen between the main characters, the vibrant and boisterous titular couple Ron and Isobel, and the quietly classy (but equally opinionated) neighbour couple, Paul and Sandra. Justin Harris-Parslow's spirited characterization of Ron was realistic and delightful, as was Kelly Nash's fiery portrayal of Isobel. Shannon Woollard's debonair persona and slick salesman vibe as real estate agent Paul Slater was nothing short of brilliant - he did well to hold his own despite the challenge of being a quiet character in the presence of two very loud others. Nadia Andary's stressed and anxious portrayal of Sandra, and Taylor Smith-Morvell's stock character-ish portrayal of Jay, didn't quite match the persuasiveness of the other three characters but provided pleasant enough support to the overall flow of the play.
Ron and Isobel is a thought-provoking play (based on the lives of a real couple) that draws attention to all that has changed in the last 40 plus years, as well as all that hasn't. It feels historically accurate, even if somewhat sanitized in parts to suit modern sensibilities, and is, at any rate, a highly entertaining glimpse into this night in the lives of Ron and Isobel.