Summer of the Seventeenth Doll: classic Australian play comes to Perth


Amy Matthews and Kelton Pell as Olive and Roo.
Amy Matthews and Kelton Pell as Olive and Roo.

RAY Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll is considered to be the most significant play in Australian theatre history and a turning point, depicting a distinctly Australian way of life in the 1950s.

It was written around the same time as kitchen sink dramas such as Look Back in Anger and A Taste of Honey brought angry young men (and women) to the fore in the UK.

Set in Melbourne, the play details the events in the lives of the main characters in summer 1953.

That summer marked the annual tradition in the lives of sugarcane cutters Barney Ibbott and Roo Webber who travel south for five months of fun with city women Olive and Nancy.

Roo brings Olive a kewpie doll hence the name of the play.

Nancy, who had earlier married, invites Pearl to take her place.

But things are different this summer – tense, strained and none of the fun of earlier years.

Roo is broke and disillusioned, his relationship with Barney in doubt while Pearl refuses to accept their lifestyle is proper.

This is a fine performance of a classic play with the gentle humour teased out, the pathos clear and some hilarious dialogue played for all the laughs it can get.

The cast is equally talented with superb performances all round, particularly from Amy Matthews as the effervescent and bouncy Olive.

Summer is part of a trilogy with prequels Kid Stakes (1937) dealing with the first year of the summer tradition and the origin of the kewpie doll and Other Times (1945).

WHAT: Summer of the Seventeenth Doll
WHERE: Heath Ledger Theatre, Perth
WHEN: Until Sunday, May 20

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