THE END OF THE BIG DAY: Marie (Mareia Cowper), Mayor Harrigan (Bill North), Wally (Marty Wells), Helen (Rachel Schuhmacher), Depty Mayor Robert (Richard Cope), and Chrystal Lee (Meg Lamrock) in a scene from The Criterion's latest play Australia Day.
THE END OF THE BIG DAY: Marie (Mareia Cowper), Mayor Harrigan (Bill North), Wally (Marty Wells), Helen (Rachel Schuhmacher), Depty Mayor Robert (Richard Cope), and Chrystal Lee (Meg Lamrock) in a scene from The Criterion's latest play Australia Day.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oh, no, no

COME and celebrate Australia Day tonight and the next two weekends as the crew from the Criterion Theatre perform the production of the same name.

Written by Sydney-based actor and comedian Jonathon Biggins, Australia Day is a play that examines the traditions around our National Day.

The action takes place in a country town where a committee plans and oversees the celebrations for Australia Day.

The first half of the play lets us into the committee meetings to catch a glimpse of the important decisions that have to be made: what sort of sausages, how many gas bottles and who is singing the national anthem.

In the second half, we follow the action on the actual day in January, where the heat is oppressive, the barbecue is raging and portable toilets aren't up to the challenge. With so many logistics and a small committee, there is much potential for things to go horribly wrong.

And they do.

For anyone who has ever been on a committee, this play will be familiar. While it is funny, at times in a politic- ally incorrect way, it has a serious message about how people interact in local communities.

Biggins examines the workings and politics not only of the planning committee but also local politics and how people manipulate the democratic process for their own ends. All in the cause of a Sausage Sizzle on the National Day.

The characters are diverse but predictable in their depiction of small town people with good intentions.

We are familiar with these characters - we recognise their efforts and foibles and can see how the day is going to progress before it starts.

One thousand sausages, a colouring-in competition, a primary school band playing the national anthem, a variety concert, faulty toilets, a march-past and the hottest day of the year.

What could possibly go wrong?

This is satire at its best. Cutting, edgy, uncomfortable but familiar.

The cast of The Criterion's latest production is outstanding.

Bill North is a powerhouse as the slightly dodgy mayor Bill Harrigan, ably supported by his deputy, Robert, played by newcomer Richard Cope.

Mareia Cowper returns to the Criterion stage as Marie Bucknall, president of the CWA, who supports the committee with her scones at each meeting.

Conflict comes in the form of Wally, local builder (Marty Wells) and Helen (city girl, member of the Greens), played by Rachel Schuhmacher, who clash over many personal and political issues.

Meg Lamrock, another newcomer to the stage, plays Chrystal the Australian- born, young Vietnamese woman, providing a fresh ray of sunshine among all the cynicism of the established committee.

Grafton's Criterion Theatre is taking a risk producing this play, as it may not appeal to all of the Criterion's usual audience.

However, the company is making an effort to try contemporary Australian works as a contrast to the musical shows that have been so popular over the years.

With excellent casting, including some new faces to Grafton and the stage, Australia Day looks like being a theatrical winner.

Australia Day is rated M due to some coarse language. All shows are table seating and BYO drinks and nibbles.

Show dates:

  • Thursday, 7.30pm (preview) $15
  • Friday and Saturday, 7.30pm and Sunday 2pm all $20
  • Shows continue next weekend August 19, 20, 21.

All tickets from Red Hot Hair in the Grafton Shoppingworld Link. Further information visit criteriontheatre.org.au.



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