The Sum of Us @ Above The Stag Theatre, London (Saturday, 12 Sept 2015)
It’s a Saturday night and I’ve just walked into a living room that could be the set of 1987 Aussie sitcom Hey Dad, or any 1980s Aussie living room, right down to the orange couch, VB stubbies, and the Cherry Ripe sitting in a bowl on the wooden coffee table.
I take a moment to remind myself that I am in Vauxhall, London, and the Aussie living room sitting before us is the set of Australian writer and director David Stevens’ play, The Sum of Us.
To be honest, I’ve not yet seen the 1994 Aussie film adaptation starring Russell Crowe and Jack Thompson, so I was a little hazy on the plot line before arriving. I suppose I didn’t really know what to expect from the off-Broadway (now off-West End) show playing at London’s premier award-winning LGBT theatre, Above the Stag.
The plot revolves around the overly-comfortable (and somewhat unusual) relationship between widower Harry and his footy-playing son Jeff as they each (chaotically) search for “the one”. In the first few minutes of the show, Jeff (played by Tim McFarland) runs off screen to get ready for a big date while Harry (played by Stephen Connery-Brown) breaks the fourth wall to address the audience and announce that Jeff is … “what you might call cheerful”.
The play continues in this House-of-Cards’ fashion with direct-to-audience monologues and we learn that Harry’s mother was a lesbian and Jeff sometimes finds it difficult that Harry is so overly accepting of his sexuality.
With the exception of a scene in a garden, most of the play takes place in the Aussie living room before us and all of the props on set perfectly compliment the era. And I have to admit, I did delight in the rush of nostalgia brought about by the constant stream of Aussie colloquialisms, such as “galah”, “a few bob” and “we were bangin’ like a dunny door”.
The play is hilarious. Jeff’s witty banter, mainly in Aussie slang, is delivered perfectly as he struts around the stage in a towel, a new pink shirt purchased from Australian department store, Myer, and then in his AFL short-shorts as he pulls Christmas tree decorations from a Lowes bag. Harry’s almost over-eager support for his son’s search for a boyfriend is equally comical and he is soon showing Jeff’s potential boyfriend, Greg (or was it Gary?), a variety of gay pornographic magazines that discuss safe sex (because AIDS). There are even some amusing references to the shabby-in-some-places lounge room “feature wall” that has the audience laughing with glee.
After intermission, the play keeps its humorous edge but introduces a slightly dark twist that will literally bring tears to your eyes. But, no spoilers here.
Overall, I loved the play. Under the direction of Gene David Kirk, the breaking down of the fourth wall is done very well, and McFarland and Connery-Brown, supported by Annabel Pemberton (Joyce) and Rory Hawkins (Greg), are a stand-out team as they deliver the story in an entertaining and lovable way.
All I want to do now is watch the 1994 film adaptation, just to see if Russell Crowe lives up to McFarland’s flawless version of Jeff – it will be difficult to beat.
The Sum of Us plays until 4 October 2015
Where: Above the Stag Theatre: Arch 17, Miles Street, London SW8 1RZ
Dates: Now till 4 October 2015
Time: Tue to Sat at 7.30pm; Sun at 6pm, no show Monday
Ticket Prices: Previews £12, £18 thereafter
Box Office: www.abovethestag.com, for group bookings email firstname.lastname@example.org
Closest Tube & National Rail: Vauxhall (four minutes walk from the Tube and mainline stations)
Twitter: @thesumofusplay / @abovethestag