I have been assisting in the production of Flame Trees. Over the weeks, I have come to fully appreciate the appeal of this play. Here are some thoughts I would like to share:
The premiere of local playwright Chris Dockrill's new two act play Flame Trees will be at the Bandbox Theatre, Kempsey, on February 1 and the season extends till February 16 with eight performances.
The drama is set in an Australian rural town called Flame Trees whose glory days are well gone.
The title refers of course to the distinctive Australian native plant Brachychiton Acerifolius, commonly known as the Illawarra Flame Tree - with its distinctive bright red bell-shaped flowers that often cover the whole tree when it is leafless.
The title is probably better known by its reference to the iconic song by Aussie pub rock band Cold Chisel from their 1984 album Twentieth Century. Indeed, Chris Dockrill's play reflects his musings on the story behind the haunting lyrics: "There's no change, there's no pace, Everything within its place, Just makes it harder to believe that she won't be around".
During this two-act play set mostly in the public bar of the town's Imperial Hotel, we witness the relationships and shenanigans of a range of locals from a sanctimonious, wealthy pastoralist, to a loveable barmaid, to some rough, country/bush workers and a case hardened self acclaimed lush.
The central character, Terry Kennedy, is a prodigal son figure who has returned to Flame Trees after a decade absence following a local and personal tragedy.
Why has he returned? How has he changed? What is the attraction of a town like Flame Trees? What drives this town and who runs it?
These issues are explored with poignancy, bluntness and even through violence throughout the course of the play (Warning: Yes, there is colourful Australian swearing and adult themes).
The actors are all local people and they do a most convincing job of portraying a typical country town.
There is the loveable barmaid Cynthia played by Colleen Harradine; the powerful, self-congratulatory wealthy pastoralist David Ainsworth played by Mike Lee; the case-hardened lush played by Chelsea Andrukatis; Ian, the meek son of wealthy farmers played by Michael O'Mullane; Johnno, a rough country worker played by Wil Ferguson; the footy coach, Den, a foul mouthed fencer played by Deano; Thommo, another local abattoir worker played by Joseph Stanley; Jess, sister to David, quiet but resilient played by Rylee Parry,and; Terry Kennedy, the central character, more worldly yet with a simmering attitude played by Alex Forest.
This ensemble of nine is impressive with their depiction of town life; this is slice of life realism at its best.
You will feel the tension and smoldering resentment, be outraged at the powerful manipulation, feel saddened by the loss of the glory days and amused at the loveable antics and behaviour of their social interactions.
Be a fly on the wall at The Imperial Hotel in Flame Trees. Buy a ticket. Sing along to the refrain 'Oh the flame trees will blind the weary driver, And there's nothing else could set fire to this town".