Friday, January 18, 2019


The Auction written by Katie Cole.  “Out of Place Theatre” at the amphitheatre in the park between Finn and Busby Streets, O’Connor, Canberra, Thursday January 17, 2019.

Reviewed by Frank McKone

Directors – Mirjana Ristevski and Michael McNally

Cast: Ellen Sedgley (Local Resident; Greenie); George Breynard (Ron the Auctioneer); James Gardner (Russian Woman, Olga / ukulele), Marcel Cole (Homeless Hobo / Borzoi Ballet dancer / ukulele) ; Meg Foster (Teneille - sales assistant / Team Leader) ; Natasha Lyall (Police Officer).

Composer and Music Director: Katie Cole (ukulele)

Set design: ACT Parks and Gardens.

The POP Band (Pickled Onion Properties) in action
in The Auction

It was not until after this zany, thunderstruck performance had come to its final end that the company mysteriously became titled “Out of Place Theatre”.  In typical Canberra summer fashion, a lone sulphur-crested white cockatoo squawked a dire warning of doom about half-an-hour in.  Thunder rolled closer, lightning began a magnificent son et lumière.  Umbrella-less I dashed for shelter in my car, only slightly soaked, as the downpour drowned any hope of action on stage.

The storm begins to loom over The Auction

Yet, again typically, the rain eased enough for the second half of the show to go on, as it must, after only 15 minutes when the pink galahs chorussed their special kind of cackle.  It all seemed a natural part of this constantly diverging song and dance story of corrupt real estate selling.  How much should we bid when we are told the auctioneer has already bought our local park?  $6 million is not enough.

Should the local residents of Busby Street raise the money to buy back their own public park?  Should the kangaroos be culled?  What about the homeless buying the park as a place for socialising homelessly?  And how did the Borzoi ballet dancer and his twin brother-cum-female policeman and their mother Olga get into the story?

The auctioneer offered us the “golden key to unlock the pearly gates” while we sang along to “O’Connor’s got a country feel” with the Pickled Onion Properties team; and the Greenie said “I think we should cull the people according to how much they damage the environment.”

Absurdist is just the beginning of the words you might find to describe Katie Cole’s very funny piece of summer entertainment, but I found some serious things to say.

Though “Out of Place” was right on the night, I could term this a piece of “In Situ Theatre”: that is, the theme of corruptly turning every possible space into sellable real estate – played out in a suburban public park – is very much in its place, considering the regular criticism of the ACT Government’s public and green space management, even including demolishing long established public social housing along the route of the new light rail in favour of upmarket development, while the Minister for Housing and Suburban Development proposes taking community open-space land for social housing scattered around the suburbs, as Paul Costigan has reported in this week’s CityNews.

The crowd of some 170 largely O’Connor local residents watching The Auction sang along with Katy Cole’s satirical songs with laughter clearly tinged with knowing cynicism.  So here is community theatre very much in its place.

On a different note, Canberra is noted for its many uprisings of off-centre theatrical groups and bands with names such as Bohemian Theatre, Elbow Theatre and Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen, going back to the Doug Anthony All Stars among many who have come or gone, or gone on.  The Auction and its company of actors, many of whom have relatively recently taken drama courses in local senior secondary colleges, is typical of the seeding of new groups in Canberra.  In this sense, too, the new Out of Place Theatre is In Situ Theatre – another in our tradition of often quirky groups.

The Hive Program at The Street Theatre, under the direction of Caroline Stacey, has a special role in encouraging all kinds of new theatre, and has played its part in developing The Auction, with guidance from playwright Peter Matheson.  The script still needs to be tightened and focussed, but in the context of a wild night of storm, squawking cockatoos and cackling galahs, the random divergences of plot and characters didn’t seem out of place, but rather farcical and funny – a humorous twist on the theme of corruption in situ.

The audience upstanding in action
in The Auction
 Photos: Frank McKone