Saturday, August 26, 2023

Tim by Colleen McCullough


Tim by Colleen McCullough (1974), adapted for the stage by Tim McGarry (Currency Press 2023).  Presented by Christine Dunstan Productions, at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, August 25-26 2023.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
August 25

Director – Darren Yap
Set Designer – James Browne; Costume Designer – Lucy M Scott
Lighting Designer – Ben Hughes; Composer – Max Lambert
Sound Designer – Zac Saric; Movement Director – Nigel Poulton
Stage Manager – Kirsty Walker

Cast in order of appearance:
Ben Goss – Tim Melville; Andrew McFarlane – Harry / Ron Melville
Akkshey Caplash – Jim / Nate / Raj
Valerie Bader – Emily Parker / Joy Melville
Jeanette Cronin – Mary Horton; Julia Robertson – Dee Melville

Tim was Colleen McCulloch’s first novel, 1974.  I have not read it, nor seen the 1979 movie, so I can only judge the play as it stands now, clearly updated to our era of smart phones and Google, though still locked in to on-course and TAB betting on the dogs and gee-gees, and an old-fashioned tradie working-class style.

The production of the play is excellent, both in the energy and focus in the acting by an expert team and in the originality of the set design, lighting and sound design.  The use of the classical music of Percy Grainger, Chopin, Schubert and Scriabin brilliantly illuminated the role of the upmarket Mary Horton.

Assuming, though, that the storyline is not changed from the original, the play is clever but not great.  Despite Darren Yap’s careful delineation of the characters – and each actor’s success in creating them – the play is a contrived piece rather than presenting characters developing their understanding of themselves and each other (as McCullough might have seen in, say, an Ibsen play).

The intention of raising the issue about the rights, and especially the sexual rights, of people with disabilities, still comes through as I suppose McCullough was aiming for; but the marriage, including legal arguments about powers of attorney, is certainly unlikely.  I’m probably onside with Tim’s lawyer-sister Dee on that point.

I can’t compare Tim McGarry’s work with how the novel feels on reading, but to say that it has been ‘sensitively’ adapted, as Currency’s blurb says, is not what I felt when seeing the play on stage.

Because it does raise important issues and because it is skilfully presented, this production of Tim is certainly well worth seeing.  Ben Goss does an excellent job of showing Tim’s particular kind of autism, in physical movement and in his ‘literal’ reactions.  But for depth of character and storyline development, if they are there in McCullough’s original work, perhaps another adaptation may be needed for a little less theatricality and rather more believable emotional drama.

Above: Jeanette Cronin and Ben Goss
Below: Valerie Bader, Julia Robertson, Ben Goss, Akkshey Caplash and Andrew McFarlane
teaching Tim to read
in Tim adapted from the Colleen McCullough novel by Tim McGarry