The Season by first-time playwright Nathan Maynard is a story of three generations of the Duncans, a Tasmanian Aboriginal family, maintaining one of their long-running traditions. In particular, this is catching mutton birds on Big Dog Island for a particular six-week period of every year. Commerce aside, it’s also an opportunity for the disparate branches of the family to gather and reconnect.
Featuring an Aboriginal writer, director (Isaac Drandic) and seven-member ensemble, The Season seemed an appetising chance to experience an Indigenous story. It was unfortunate that, almost from the start, foreseeable technical matters would prevent some – maybe many – in the house from becoming involved in the proceedings.
Especially in the first half of the piece, we had to suffer a combination of murky diction and (more often) inadequate volume from some actors. As a result, slabs of dialogue went by where my guest and I had to guess at the content. The effect was obvious as some barbs between family members earned laughter from the front half of the audience and virtual silence from the back half.
This factor immediately cripples any playwright’s efforts to develop themes. At times in the second half, some issues were raised – or maybe revisited? – such as something like ‘ticking the box’ with respect to proving Aboriginality. I didn’t know enough of the Tasmanian Aboriginal experience to understand the reference, and why it was important to the Duncans’ story.
When there was some opportunity for conflict and character development, it was resolved in a very neat way that showed what a close family of basically nice people the Duncans were. Whilst the play is a pleasant yarn, it was undemanding as a theatre work, covering a breadth of issues in little depth.
Marketing for The Season has emphasised its comedic nature. Certainly there was a recognisable directness in the language recalling country Australia. All of the seasonal inhabitants of Big Dog Island had amusing and colourful turns of phrase in some punchy exchanges.
The comedy aspect was greatly assisted by Auntie Marlene (Lisa Maza) and her vigorous trysts with Duncan family arch-rival Neil Watson (Trevor Jamieson). Jamieson certainly has a gift for physical comedy and comedic timing. As Senior Ranger Richard Hadgeman he had a stumbling, awkward character that amused as much as his hyperactive, womanising Watson.
If you plan to see The Season in a sizeable theatre like The Merlyn, try to get seats close to the front. Despite the end result, it is pleasing and appropriate to see Melbourne Festival featuring Indigenous Australian stories. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait too long to see more of these in mainstage theatres.
Merlyn Theatre – The Coopers Malthouse, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank
Performance: Thursday 12 October 2017 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 15 October 2017
Information and Bookings: www.festival.melbourne
Image: The Season – photo by Robert Catto
Review: Jason Whyte