There are few things more Australian than a BBQ celebrated with friends, family, and maybe a few new additions to the neighbourhood. ‘Barbecue’, a side splitting comedy by Daryl Peebles brings the world of the Coopers to life in a no holds barred exploration of what makes a great Australian barbie.
The directorial team consisting of Tereska Hart and Diana Gogulski made efficient use of the small space that had been transformed inside the Redland Museum. Creating small pockets that, while were often crowded, never felt overly crushed. There was some clear character development shown, particularly as marriages dissolved, faiths were questioned, and some lives just stuck to the status quo. Unquestionably a sign of the commitment given by the whole company.
The veritable onslaught of strangers descending on the Cooper’s new ‘shed’ was as unlikely as it was charming. The comedy relies on a strong leading couple playing Colin and Connie Cooper, and in Daniel Baker and Ann Leung they definitely had a win. The choice to gently leaning into the interracial mixed family atmosphere really underlined the themes of the play. There was an immediate sense of welcome and humbleness about the Coopers residence and it stemmed entirely from the relationship between Baker and Leung.
As their daughters Kylie and Krystal, Melita Sattler and Laura Perrett had a down to earth chemistry, and if some of their lines were ‘telegraphed’ a little too hard to the audience, they made up for it by constantly being switched on to what was happening around them. Their energy with the surprising mormon drop ins played by Josh Welter and Taine Harding was wonderful.
Welter and Harding became the audience’s eyes and ears onstage, casually asking the questions everyone wanted to have answered. Welter in particular brought a gorgeously frantic comedy to his burgeoning relationship with Hannan Mesmar as Marion McKenzie. Both were delightful and honest in their portrayal of a complicated young love.
Roy Nunn and Suze Harpur as Len and Judith McKenzie were acidic, confronting, and underlined some of the major problems facing Australian society. They allowed the play to explore themes of immigration and acceptance through a filter of exclusivity and culture warfare. The inevitable collapse of their unsustainable way of life was one of the most satisfyingly explored parts of the play and Nunn in particular shone in his role.
Rounding out the large ensemble was Andrew McArthur as Kevin Glover, the sophisticated but still down to earth corporate raider. McArthur’s performance was one of the most amusing on stage throughout the evening, and embraced part of the slapstick elements inherent in the script. He also allowed Kevin to stand as a moderate, engaging both sides, clearly preferring the down to earth Cooper’s, but never shying away from the more societally elite. This was a deft, and engaging performance, and as one of the standouts of the night.
Tech for the production was quite simple, consisting of several strategically placed par cans and a trio of LED wash lights with some fairy lights thrown in for good measure. There were some late cues, and some sound effects that didn’t quite match the overall tone of the show, but this will undoubtedly clear up as ‘Barbecue’ settles into the neighbourhood.
‘Barbecue’ is a fantastic example of what happens when people who love community theatre, embrace community theatre for everything that it can be. It is charming, funny, and thoroughly heartfelt. While there were minor pacing issues, and it was clear that some of the talent onstage has more experience than the others, it was obvious that everyone onstage treading the boards did so with joy in their hearts.
While ‘Barbecue’ is on stage until 9 February, 2020, the season is completely sold out. So if you don’t want to miss out on the more offerings by this surprising little company, make sure to follow them at https://matestg.org.au.
This article was edited by Shane Webb.