Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Theatre by Frank McKone: Codgers by Don Reid

Codgers by Don Reid. A Steady Lad and Christine Dunstan production, directed by Wayne Harrison at Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, The Q, March 24-27, 2010

Even though the performances by a cast of luminaries like Ron Haddrick and Shane Porteous made for an enjoyable evening, the play is too lightweight for the themes the author introduces: racial and social prejudice, fear of change, the legacy of The Great War and the Second World War, what it means to be Australian.

The good idea behind the comedy is undermined by crude sexual innuendo, fart jokes and, most unfortunately, by the completely gratuitous use of a device – the sudden death of the youngest “codger” – to bring the play to a sentimental end. Harrison obviously worked hard to produce laughs from “business” like expressions of the men’s faces as they were put through their physical exercises, and the actors played the clown for everything it was worth. But nothing could cover up the basic superficiality of the characters and the relationships between them.

If it had been played as a true stylised farce, with speed and rapid pacing, it may have worked better. The mawkish sentiment and the unrealistic conflicts might then have become integrated into a consistent work, all of which could be taken as an ironic comic commentary on a certain kind of older Anglo-Australian male. In this production, stylisation was used to begin the play and to introduce some scenes, while slapstick took over in many scenes and in others we were expected to take characters and their reactions for real. This mix doesn’t hang together.

In the end, having done their best with a script which needs much more original use of language, a set of more complex characters and a less predictable plot, and working very well as an ensemble, the cast save the play. It reminded me of a rather old-fashioned theatre-in-education piece about multicultural harmony (it was Harmony Day last Sunday) – not for children, but rather for men in their second childhood. At my age, 69, I found I felt quite out of touch with the world of these “codgers”. If there was a point where I felt at home, it was in the character (and the portrayal by Jon Lam) of Stanley Chang. He made the evening worthwhile for me.