Theatre review – Travelling North

Sydney Theatre Company  from 10 January – 22 March

It was a mission to get to the David Williamson play Travelling North at the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) but I was so glad I’d made the effort.  Full of barbeques, shorty shorts and beautiful blow dries, it was a blast of 70’s Australiana nostalgia mixed with tears, laughter and humour.

Enroute to Sydney I kept reading about STC’s Travelling North. Stage and screen veteran Greta Scacchi’s had been forced to pull out only a day or so before opening night due to a back injury.  I was intrigued.  How would the new actress, get on? Would the play be any good with this last minute change?  I was determined to go see it and find out. Would I make it in time to find out?

I made it.  Despite arriving at my hotel 20 minutes before curtain up, despite a dodgy cab driver and his dodgy directions and despite being 20 minutes late but because of the great box office staff and the awesome ushers I was in the audience sixth row with Director Andrew Upton sitting right behind me.

Travelling North features two central characters.  Frank played by well-known Australian Actor Bryan Brown and Allison Whyte (Greta Scacchi’s replacement) as Frances.  The couple are interesting mix of Frank’s yobbo nature to Frances calm, soft presence.  Having met in their middling years the couple gave away and gave up everything to move from Frances’ family in Melbourne to Tropical North Queensland.

The couple navigate the waters of their unfolding relationship with Frank whiling away his days on the water fishing and Frances waiting at home for him at the end of each day.

With her auburn curls cascading down around her shoulders and her bare feet, Allison Whyte floats around the stage like she, not Greta Scacchi, had been the one rehearsing for Travelling North all these weeks.  The only thing that gives Ms Whyte away, in her hours old introduction to the role of Frances, is the script in her hand. That is how well the play was able to go on.

Pale faced Alison Whyte and the deliciously tanned, salt and pepper haired and maturing nicely, star of screen and stage Bryan Brown move around each other on stage like the old married couple that they play. Like they’ve been together a life time.  But a lifetime isn’t what Frank and Frances have.

Unexpectedly the couple are faced with Frank’s deteriorating heart health and perhaps not so unexpectedly Frances daughter’s need for their mother back in Melbourne.

Frances’ two daughters academic, Sophie (Sara West) and stay at home mother, Helen (Harriet Dyer) are standouts.  They inject dry humour and quick witted comments that raise many a laugh from the audience as well plenty of empathy and perhaps just a little bit of frustration for their sometimes selfishness.  Their musings break up the monotony of every day relationship issues.

Even Frank’s fairly estranged daughter Joan (Emily Russell) makes an appearance reminding him of how his relationship with her mother came to its sorry end.  Frank, although sometimes opinionated is not deaf or obtuse to this reminder of what not to do in his relationship with Frances.  It saves his relationship with her in its last months, when Doctor Saul confirms what Frank himself knows about his heart condition.

The good doctor Saul (Russell Kiefel) is blunt and humourous in his diagnosis and treatment of Frank.  And it seems both the good doctor and neighbour Freddy (Andrew Tighe) are keen to secure Frances’ heart should Frank pass away which makes for a very humorous scene.  As does Freddy’s barbeque construction for Frank and Frances.

Freddy makes me laugh so much my face hurts.  Every time he walks out in his shorty, very Kel Day-Night (think ABC hit Kath and Kim) shorts you just can’t take him seriously but his heart is in the right place and he does everything he can to be a good friend and annoying neighbour all at once.

All at once, two hours fly buy and the David Williamson play that first ran in 1979 is coming to an end.

On the bare wooden platforms of the set, Frank sits in the only other significatnt prop of the play, his wireless at his feet, at peace with the world and those he loves.

As the lights go down and the Rolling Stones proclaim in the back ground You Can’t always get what you want, I couldn’t help but wonder if Frank and Frances got what they needed or what they wanted.

Me? I got what I wanted.  My emotions were stirred, my culture cup ran over.  I sipped champagne at the STC bar at the end of the wharf and soaked up the buzz of the patrons and a great night out on Sydney Harbour.   My mission was complete. If you’re in Sydney with some time to spare make it your mission to see this play too.

Theatre Bar at the end of the wharf where lots of bubbles are served.

Theatre Bar at the end of the wharf where lots of bubbles are served.  Photo credit: Grant Sparks Carroll.

Travelling North details

Play runs 10 January – 22 March


Wharf 1
Pier 4/5, Hickson Road (Just near the Sebel)
Walsh Bay NSW 2000

Telephone:  02 9250 1777

Tickets – from $58-$99

Director – Andrew Upton (Cate Blanchett’s other half!)

Cast – Bryan Brown, Alison Whyte, Harriet Dyer, Russell Kiefel, Emily Russell, Andrew Tighe, Sara West

* Theatre Bar at the end of the wharf picture, photo credit: Grant Sparks Carroll.