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Spencer - Theatre Review

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by Fiona Anderson (subscribe)
A Melbourne based writer who is a travel junkie, dedicated foodie and emerging photographer.
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Sterling performances hit the mark in this clever new play
At last year's Melbourne Fringe Festival, I was fortunate enough to review a fantastic show called A Prudent Man, a clever political satire touching on themes of illegal immigration and moral dilemmas. Playwright Katy Warner was deservedly nominated for a Green Room Award for New Writing for the show. The solo performer in the show was Lyall Brooks, and it was produced by Adam Fawcett.

When I was invited to see a new theatre production involving the same three people, I didn't hesitate to accept. I couldn't wait to see what this talented trio had produced this time.

Spencer - Theatre Review
Ben (Lyall Brooks, left) gives some brotherly advice to Scott (Jamieson Caldwell)

I certainly wasn't disappointed. Their latest work, Spencer, tells the story of a family led by matriarch Marilyn (Jane Clifton) and her three adult children, Ben (Lyall Brooks), Scott (Jamieson Caldwell) and Jules (Fiona Harris). Scott, the youngest of the three, is an aspiring footballer. It seems he has, unexpectedly, fathered a child to a woman he can't even really remember. The family has gathered to await a first visit from this child, Spencer. The house needs to be decorated, gifts bought, and unsolicited advice given ahead of the highly anticipated visit.

Along the way is the usual sibling sparring one expects to see when a family used to having independent lives is thrust together once again.

The already complex family dynamics gain another dimension when the children's father and former husband of Marilyn, Ian (Roger Oakley) enters the fold. Despite having abandoned Marilyn and the children many years before, Ian asserts that he has as much right as anyone else to meet Spencer.

The suspense builds in a Waiting for Godot way. What will happen when Spencer arrives? How will he react towards his father, and his other newfound relatives? Will Ian be allowed to stay? Ah, well, you will have to see the show to learn the answers.

This is a very cleverly and tightly scripted show. Kathy Warner has talent in spades and it shines through. The characters are believable, the plot credible. While overall tipping more towards comedy than drama, Warner nevertheless takes the audience on a roller coaster of emotions at times. The script has been beautifully crafted to achieve this balance.

But what about the execution? Here too, this production is a standout. I've already mentioned how impressed I was by Brooks in A Prudent Man, so it was interesting to see him take on a completely different role and play it so convincingly. Far from the conservative blue suit of the former production, here we see Brooks in singlet, underpants and Ugg boots, such as one might wear when one is comfortable in one's own skin in the family home. He seamlessly takes on the role of the 'bogan' Aussie and plays it brilliantly.

Spencer - Theatre Review
The Cocoa Pops scene. Ben (Lyall Brooks) eats Cocoa Pops, watched on by Marilyn (Jane Clifton), Jules (Fiona Harris) and Scott (Jamieson Caldwell)

There is one scene in particular to which Brooks is central that deserves mention, involving Brooks eating a bowl of Cocoa Pops. Without going into too much detail, the less to spoil the surprise, I am reminded of a quote by American actor Steve Martin: What is comedy? Comedy is the art of making people laugh without making them puke. Let's just say it is an apt quote for the scene in question!

Jane Clifton has grabbed the role of Marilyn with both hands and made it her own. She moves between the footy fanatic mother, the expectant grandmother, and the hungover harridan with convincing ease.

Spencer - Theatre Review
Jane Clifton is convincing as Marilyn (seen on stage here with Roger Oakley as Ian)

Roger Oakley is likewise comfortable as Ian. As soon as he walks on stage, his face is as familiar as an old sock. Like Clifton, he has a wealth of experience in the industry, including television appearances in Home & Away and Something in the Air. He makes the role look effortless.

Caldwell and Harris give creditable performances in their respective roles, to round out what is a strong cast to deliver this quality show.

Overall, this is a thoroughly entertaining show, and one to put on the 'must see' list.

Spencer plays at Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran at 7.00pm Wednesday - Saturday, 2.00pm Sunday, from 11th - 28th May. As there is a significant amount of coarse language, as well as simulated cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption scenes during the performance, Spencer is recommended for audience members aged 15 plus.

Tickets are $39 full, $34 concession/group 6 , $29 under 30 (plus transaction fee). Tickets for Spencer are available via the Chapel off Chapel website. Click here to purchase your tickets.

The performance running time is 90 minutes (no interval).

Image attribution

The images in this article were taken by photographer Pier Carthew and provided by the producer, Adam Fawcett.
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Why? A fresh, new, clever Australian comedy/drama about family dynamics
When: 7pm Wednesday - Saturday, 2pm Sunday until Sunday 28th May
Phone: (03) 8290 7000
Where: Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran
Cost: $39 full, $34 concession/group 6 , $29 under 30 (plus transaction fee)
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by Jen on 12/05/2017
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