A while ago I had the immense pleasure of seeing a wholly new original play, The Season, written by Tasmanian playwright Nathan Maynard. It’s featured as one of the top billing shows of the Ten Days on the Island festival, a status that was extremely warranted. The play’s narrative focuses on an Aboriginal family’s annual mutton birding trip to the Bass Strait called Dog Island. It is a place of significance where the central father character Ben (a superb Kelton Pell) spent his adolescence before being forced to move to Launceston. Among the family are Ben’s loving wife Sarah (Tammy Anderson) their children Ritchie (Luke Carroll) and Lou (Nazaree Dickerson), their grandson Clay (James Slee) and Sarah’s sister Marlene (Lisa Maza).
For almost the entire show, the play had no formal straightforward narrative. Rather, it focused on several events and character-driven subplots to build a subtle commentary on the state of Aboriginals in the context of modern day Australia. Said subplots varied from the light hearted (Clay’s fear of grabbing a snake instead of a mutton bird) to the more provocative (Marlene’s alcoholism and introverted jealous hatred for Sarah). Maynard also skilfully weaves several current socio-political topics into the play and reconnects them in an Aboriginal context, the most prevalent being Lou’s disclosed homosexuality and the Aboriginality of a cousin of the family, Dickie (Trevor Jamieson) who Ritchie believes to be a ‘johnny come lately’.
This all makes The Season sound dark and strictly serious, but that could not be further from the truth. A strong overture of humour guides the show, helped ridiculously by the ever-talented and brilliant cast. With this in mind, it is important to ask what made The Season so successful in almost every aspect of original theatre and performance. The answer is another article within itself, but ultimately it can boiled down to its indirect connection to its audience.
Maynard succeeds wholly by building the skeletal structure of the play around a scenario or pastime that resonates with almost everybody: family vacation. Whether it’s the annoying uncle who takes every opportunity he gets to trip you over, or a sister who is the butt of all the family jokes, one can simply sit back in their chair and connect with the characters.
The fact that the play deals with the historical elements of the modern state of Aboriginal communities while connecting with an audience of all ethnicities (through comedy) could in fact be one great signifier for why The Season is a fantastic piece of theatre. Its subtlety left me walking out onto the warm street of the evening and connecting the dots, thinking about Aboriginal Australians, how they hold a strong relationship to the land, and how discrimination is often linked to a historical but not modern context in Australia.
Beside the entertainment and commitment of the play, the sold out audience at the Royal put on their own kind of show. Proudly yelling and wooing at a comment about the Tasmanian Liberal Party and singing with the characters or clapping so loudly you couldn’t catch a word from the characters on stage. The centrally-stationed congregation became thespians themselves in a fantastic display of emotion and love for the content and dialogue on stage.
Against the backdrop of the mood of the crowd, I found myself snickering with humour at an elderly couple I was sitting next to. They sat before the lights went down, discussing their fondness of a one man play they had seen in Melbourne that traversed all sorts of anthropological issues in a style ‘heavily influenced by Shakespeare’. I heard comments about deep seated love and eloquent language and how they believed The Season (having just come from the Sydney Festival) would be artistically similar.
The show began, however, just as I thought: a kaleidoscopic arsenal of expletive language and direct, unfazed, dirty and vulgarly hilarious comments, and slang for all things sexual. A few times when I was slapping my knees I checked if they were doing the same… They were most certainly not. And somewhere in the realms of the hot and cramped theatre, I could see, hear, and feel the satisfaction of Nathan Maynard grinning, chuckling and clapping his hands together.