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Summer of the Seventeenth Doll at Stirling Theatre

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Most significant play in Australian theatre history
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Stirling Theatre, Australian classic, performing arts, play, actor, stage, Ray Lawler
Ben Small, left, Mark Dyer, Elias Cuzens and Fran Gordon, at back, and Kezia Daisy, Ellie Freeman and Danni Close in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll.


An Australian stage classic written by playwright Ray Lawler – who turned 100 this year – is coming to Stirling Theatre. Directed by Tim Riessen, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll is considered by literary scholars to be the most significant play in Australian theatre history. It provided a turning point where distinctly Australian life and characters were openly and authentically portrayed, signalling the maturity of a nation prepared to question its stereotypes and attitudes.

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Stirling Theatre, Australian classic, performing arts, play, actor, stage, Ray Lawler
Olive (Danni Close, left), Roo (Mark Dyer), Barney (Ben Small), Emma (Fran Gordon) and Pearl (Kezia Daisy) in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll.


The story follows two itinerant cane cutters, Barney and Roo, who have spent the past 16 summers in the off-season with two barmaids in Melbourne. Every year, Roo has brought a tinsel doll to his girl Olive, as a gift to symbolise their relationship – but this 17th summer is somehow different.

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Stirling Theatre, Australian classic, performing arts, play, actor, stage, Ray Lawler
Roo (Mark Dyer, left) gives Olive (Danni Close) a doll every summer.

"Summer of the Seventeenth Doll is an iconic Australian play that highlights the unravelling of lives," Tim said. "It's about the end of an era for the characters. One of the challenges is bringing to life the type of lifestyle portrayed, so younger audiences can gain an understanding of it. For the era, the idea of unmarried folk would have been quite controversial – this is less so today, so getting this across will be important."

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Stirling Theatre, Australian classic, performing arts, play, actor, stage, Ray Lawler
Roo (Mark Dyer, left) and Barney (Ben Small) come to blows as the others watch on in horror.


Originally performing as a teenager, Tim has returned to the stage in recent years, appearing in Jesus Christ Superstar and an end-of-year pantomime with the Albany Light Opera and Theatre Company and The Phantom of the Opera, Pride and Prejudice, Anything Goes, Speaking in Tongues and The Darling Buds of May with Limelight Theatre. He has also performed in You Can't Have One at Stirling Theatre and directed David Williamson's Let The Sunshine at Limelight Theatre in 2017.

"Summer of the Seventeenth Doll appealed because it embodies the emergence of the Aussie spirit," Tim said. "It speaks to me of my parents and grandparents."

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Stirling Theatre, Australian classic, performing arts, play, actor, stage, Ray Lawler
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll features Danni Close, left, as Olive and Mark Dyer as Roo.


Mark Dyer plays Roo. "He is the headman of some top-notch cane-cutters, whose sense of identity is grounded in his unchallenged, sun-hardened masculinity," Mark said. "Roo softens just a little in the winter when he's with Olive – it's a simple life and an uncomplicated love that has managed to evade the realities of time and tradition.

"But when a much younger man publicly threatens Roo's masculine prowess, complications of reality and commitment finally take hold of both Roo and his relationship with Olive."

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Stirling Theatre, Australian classic, performing arts, play, actor, stage, Ray Lawler
Johnnie Dowd (Elias Cuzens, left) and Roo (Mark Dyer) come to an agreement.


One of the main challenges, according to Mark, is learning his character's 269 lines. "Roo is required to take the audience on an emotional roller coaster of bravado, affection, rage, humiliation and disillusion that ultimately ends in despair," he said.

Previously, Mark made his stage debut earlier this year with a minor role in To Kill A Mockingbird. "I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to perform in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll because it was one of the first, truly courageous Australian plays to break away from the previously dominant English playwright tradition," he said.

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Stirling Theatre, Australian classic, performing arts, play, actor, stage, Ray Lawler
Bubba (Ellie Freeman, left) becomes excited at the prospect of going out with Johnnie (Elias Cuzens) in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll.


Summer of the Seventeenth Doll plays at 8pm November 26, 27, December 2, 3, 4, 9, 10 and 11 with 2pm matinees November 28 and December 5. Tickets are $22, $20 concession – book at www.trybooking.com/BNVUO. Stirling Theatre is on Morris Place, Innaloo.

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Why? There’s a reason this is one of Australia’s most praise-worthy plays – masterfully written and full of intricacies and emotions, matched with incredible wit and dry hilarity, it feels extremely real.
When: 8pm November 26, 27, December 2, 3, 4, 9, 10 & 11; 2pm November 28 & December 5
Where: Stirling Theatre, Morris Place, Innaloo
Cost: $22, $20 concession
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