Tea Tree Players
Tea Tree Players Theatre
Until 04 Jun 2022

Review by Holden Ward

In a world premiere, the Tea Tree Players’ production of “The Socially Distanced Play” is a topical farce, written and directed by local playwright Damon Hill.

In an ironic twist, on only the second night of the season, Hill addressed the audience before the play commenced, advising of a curious case of “life imitating art”, with one of the lead actors having tested positive to COVID. Furthermore, Hill announced that he would be stepping into the role of Bartholomew Davies/George Potts for the evening’s performance.

Hill’s professionalism really shone through as an unexpected understudy, delivering a flawless performance, and not missing a beat with the other actors.

“The Socially Distanced Play” is a farce within a farce, based around a community theatre company attempting to rehearse a traditional farce whilst trying to adhere to the rules of social distancing. The farcical elements came to the fore quite naturally, as we can all relate to the often non-sensical nature of various COVID restrictions throughout this pandemic. Whilst such restrictions have arguably kept us safe, they have also fundamentally disrupted our ways of life and most basic of social behaviours, in, let’s face it, absurd ways.

This is a very well written and funny play, and the casting for this production is spot on. The script is rich with farcical, COVID-related themes, and most of the actors were able to have fun with the verbal and physical gags on stage, eliciting regular laughter from the audience. And yes, joyous laughter could even be heard through the surgical masks!

The cast were all wonderful in their own way, and even the actors whose stage accents were variable, added to the authenticity of recreating a community theatre rehearsal. Particularly strong performances were evident from the Director character, Clive Pinkerton, humorously played by Tim Cousins, who reminds us how easily nerves are frayed for those who take on the brave task of directing amateur theatre! Strong characterisations of farce were evident in Lachlan Blackwell’s portrayal of Daniel Garret, with his over-the-top French accent and lecherous mannerisms in playing the energetic Stefan LeBonq, working well with Chris Galipo’s cheating wife character. Special mention must also be made of Tea Tree Players President, Theresa (Lilly) Dolman, who superbly played the anything-but-behind-the-scenes Props Lady, as a well-intentioned, but constantly interrupting helper with a whiny voice, toned to perfection!

In addition to the relatable COVID themes, anyone who has been involved with amateur or community theatre will warmly identify with the thespian satire here. I particularly enjoyed the reference to the script prompter who mistakenly understood a pregnant pause to be an actor forgetting their lines, to which the actor, played by Frank Cwiertniak responds, “no…I was acting”. Pure gold.

The stage was appropriate, as a “functionally dysfunctional” element of the comedy, and nuanced send ups of amateur theatre. The use of a Tom Lehrer song to introduce both acts was a curious choice. Given the play’s content, I wondered if the chorus of “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” by The Police may have been more relevant.

The Program for “The Socially Distanced Play” was also uniquely creative, with the cast write-ups written mostly from the perspective of the on-stage characters, and the actual cast photos were of the actors wearing face masks.

“The Socially Distanced Play” was a thoroughly entertaining production, giving audiences a much-needed laugh about all the things which have given us little reason to laugh over the past two years or so.

As a recently written, topical play, I am not sure if “The Socially Distanced Play” has any equivalent, but I think it is worthy of an extended life, and hope that the script can realise its full potential to be adopted for interstate or overseas productions.

In the meantime, if you can get along to the Tea Tree Players Theatre, go and see this hilarious play!