The Book Club by Rodney Fisher, from the play by Roger Hall. Performed by Amanda Muggleton, direction and set design by Rodney Fisher. Produced by Christine Harris and HIT Productions at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, October 3-5, 2013.
Reviewed by Frank McKone
Amanda Muggleton is justifiably the darling of Queanbeyan, despite making an awful error in the city’s 175th Birthday year. Speaking to the audience after two curtain calls, thanking us for being so responsive (which indeed we were), she opined “I just love coming to Canberra!” Oops! After all Canberra is a mere 100 years old this year.
But no matter. We understood and we appreciated her role as our favourite actor, while someone in the front row explained politely to her that Queanbeyan has an identity of its own.
Apart from her fortitude in performing solo for two acts of an hour and a quarter each, which in itself commands our respect, her flexibility and comic ingenuity in playing the role of Deborah, who also acts out all the characters from the book club, in her family and in her breakaway relationship with the author, Michael, after inviting him as speaker, was a wonderful demonstration of her acting skills.
Yet there was more. The warmth and attention for which she praised us in the audience only developed because of Amanda’s openness to our reactions. Instead of strictly playing the script and the character, she was able to smoothly make the transition to ad libbing and communicating with us as herself and then slipping back into role as Deborah. Only once did she have to repeat a line to cue herself back into the official script.
So we were treated to two performances in one – Amanda and Deborah – and we loved them both.
The play is cleverly written using the books the book club decides to discuss as a through-line parallel to Deborah’s marital and extra-marital story. This allows for references to change according to the authors now in vogue – Tim Winton does well out of this – as well as keeping those in the canon – particularly To Kill a Mockingbird and Anna Karenina – which are essential to our understanding of Deborah’s emotional life. I guess it is this appeal to the reading audience which makes the play so appropriate for middle-class Queanbeyan – Canberra.
I would also add, though, that the The Q theatre played its role. It is perhaps the only local venue that is comfortable, has the right sight-lines and raking of the seating, and responsive acoustics, which create an intimate inclusive feeling for several hundred people.
The Q management is friendly and runs smoothly, and the director Stephen Pike has made an excellent choice in bringing The Book Club here.
But I have to end on the only problematic note, which I have had to mention on some previous occasions. Christine Harris likes to have her name publicly attached to her production company HIT Productions, but does her actors, designers and technical staff a great disservice by providing no more than a poster in the foyer with limited information. Any theatre production is a cooperative venture, and all the participants should be properly publicly acknowledged.
As a model for HIT Productions, I suggest Ms Harris should take a leaf from Caroline Stacey’s book at The Street Theatre, and provide a simple but colourful small flyer to go with each ticket sale (or at least a pile of them in the foyer for people to take if they wish). So I’m including here a picture of the flyer for The Street’s current production of Emily Eyefinger as an example, since I don’t have a program picture for The Book Club.
However, don’t let my concern on this point stop you from thoroughly enjoying Amanda Muggelton in The Book Club at The Q.