The MTC’s new play Australia Day has a theme ripe for comedy – the organization of the Australia Day celebration for a medium-size coastal town. It’s got a great cast, including the wonderful Alison Whyte as the archetypal treechanger Greens Councillor, Geoff Morell as local Mayor, small businessman and aspiring Liberal politician, and Peter Kowitz as the local bigot.
Jonathan Biggins’s script moves briskly through some fairly broad, and occasionally fairly obvious comedy, with Valerie Bader’s Esmae Watson-like CWA president in particular working very hard (and generally successfully) to make jokes about old people’s ignorance of social media seem fresh. But as the first act goes on, more serious themes of a rural Australia in transition are deftly brought in. It is at this point that I was struck by just how good an actor Alison Whyte is. It shouldn’t have been any kind of surprise, I suppose, but I was completely sold on her character – it seemed so natural and utterly believable.
But back to those more serious themes. Without spoiling it for anybody who attends the play, they are very much a distillation of the current zeitgeist. But I’m not sure the play has anything much to add to that zeitgeist. At no point did I feel challenged, or provoked. And surely a good satire should challenge and provoke?
To be fair, a desire to provoke and shock could lead to mindless contrarianism, which, if you believe the Australia Institute, is the case with the MTC’s next play The Heretic. But, overall, I left feeling that the script didn’t really have the bite it could have.