Wyong Drama Group’s final performance for the 2014 season was Sweet Road, an Australian drama penned by award winning playwright and scriptwriter, Debra Oswald. Oswald is probably best known for the Channel Ten hit series Offspring but she is also a successful children’s writer and playwright. Her Griffin Award winning stage play, Mr Bailey’s Minder, was memorably performed by Woy Woy Little Theatre in 2007. Sweet Road is a ‘slice of life’ play about a collection of diverse characters as they each, for their varied reasons, set off on road trips through the Australian outback. Their stories are told through their accidental encounters and interactions with each other along the way. It is a masterful and evocative script that engages the imagination of the audience to create scene, setting and personae. A cast of strong, fully drawn characters engage in very real situations, and are shown in settings that reflect the great variety of Australian landscape, culture and character. The dialog and action is rich and textured, entertaining and dramatic, occasionally confronting, sometimes poignant, ultimately moving and uplifting.
This was WDG’s first production in their new home, The Grove Theatre in Wyong, and I was eager to see how they would adapt to the new space. The last time I saw the place it was a school hall with just a two level floor connected by a couple of steps, but Wyong’s theatrical construction crews have been hard at work since and have converted the raised section into a full stage facility, and Sweet Road director, Joshua Maxwell, added extra lighting for his production.
WDG has had much success in recent years performing well known farces like Fawlty Towers and ’Allo ’Allo – hugely popular shows that are guaranteed to put bums on seats. It’s good to see the group investing the profits from these ventures back into staging quality Australian drama, and encouraging challenging productions that enhance the group’s reputation for producing exciting and innovative theatre. WDG is actively seeking to attract new members and encourage fresh blood for its productions, and twenty-one year old Josh Maxwell is a fine example of the upcoming generation – having already demonstrated his directing abilities with the group’s recent production of Two Weeks with the Queen and contributing his design flair to shows like Cosi, Calendar Girls and All My Sons. He favours plays that appeal to a broad audience and provide plenty of opportunities for younger members to showcase their talents, offstage and on.
His suggestive, minimalist approach to set and staging blended well with Oswald’s evocative script. Props were kept simple: cars, for example, were just chairs and a steering wheel. Scene, setting and atmosphere were implied through photographs pinned to the flats, and creative use of lighting and sound. Prior to the production, a dedicated crew undertook and filmed their own road trip to create a flavour of the characters’ journeys. This played unobtrusively on the back wall, giving a subliminal sense of motion without drawing attention from the performances, which were the central focus of the piece.
The fine ensemble cast was a mixture of older and newer members, from veteran actor, Marc Calwell, who gave a heart-warming performance as Frank, a retiree trying to live his remaining time to the fullest, to recent addition, Kalani Katsoolis, who was endearing as an idealistic teenager-in-love. Scott Russell, who is becoming a WDG regular, and newcomer, Jessica Pascuzzo, played an apparently mismatched married couple, rising to the challenge of interacting with two unseen children and a dog, and convincingly realizing their presence on stage. Scott Osbourne, who distinctively played Captain Hook in WMTC’s recent production of Peter Pan, was seen here in a very different role. His quietly absorbing portrayal of a recently bereaved father had you grieving for his tragedy long before you knew what it was. Danielle Brame Whiting, returning to the stage after a long absence, showed no sign of having been away as she engagingly and sympathetically depicted the breakdown and recovery of a woman shocked by the sudden ending of her marriage. Relative WDG newbie, Kyle Carlson, and WMTC’s Cassie Roome both made an impression in the smaller but important roles of an unstable hitch-hiker and an outback police officer and other incidental roles. All gave compelling and nuanced performances that drew the audience into their stories, showing the growth of their characters throughout their journeys and, on occasion, moving me to tears.
Finally, mention should be made of the “Sweet Road Orchestra” who contributed to the ambience of the piece with a score of original music written especially for the production by talented young composer (and assistant director) Declan Green. This music is now available from ‘iTunes’ and can be downloaded by visiting the iTunes store and searching for “Music from Sweet Road”.
Congratulations to everyone involved for an outstanding production. WDG’s next performance, in March, will be The Cemetery Club by Ivan Menchell, directed by Ron Baker. The information night for this play will take place on December 4th. For details and audition information click on AUDITIONS: WDG’s “The Cemetary Club”. Further information about the group can be found at http://www.wyongdramagroup.com.au and on their Facebook page.
Author Debra Oswald (shown above with, director, Joshua Maxwell and with the cast and crew of Sweet Road below) attended and thoroughly enjoyed the Gala Night performance. Images courtesy of WDG publicity.