ANNETTE Rowlison so enjoyed directing the play The Sum of Us when it was staged at Penrith’s Q Theatre 18 years ago that she quickly put her hand up last year to present a Newcastle production after moving from Sydney to the Hunter Valley.
The work will be staged at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Bolton Street, Newcastle, from February 1 to 9 by Rowlison’s Bare Productions. The company, established in Sydney in 2014, stages interesting productions of rarely produced plays. Rowlison made the move to the Hunter’s Wollombi after staging the six Hunter Valley Summer Theatre shows at Sobel’s Winery in late 2016, and has presented several shows in and around Cessnock.
The recent closure of Stooged Theatre, a Newcastle company that specialised in presenting unusual but well-received plays, contributed to her decision to stage a show in the city. And the cast of The Sum of Us includes two actors who appeared in Stooged works: Alan Glover and Benjamin Louttit.
The Sum of Us, written by Australian-based writer David Stevens in the late 1980s, has as its central characters a recently widowed man, Harry Mitchell, played in this production by Alan Glover, and his gay son, Jeff (Roderick Sinnamon), who share a house in a major Australian city.
Harry is acceptive of his son’s gay nature, which he refers to as “cheerful”. Both are searching for new lovers. Jeff, who is a rugby-playing plumber, brings home one night from a beer-drinking session at a hotel a similar-aged male he has met there, Greg (Benjamin Louttit), who is trying to work out how to tell family members that he is gay. And Harry, a ferry driver, meets through a dating service a divorcee called Joyce (Robyn Blackwell).
Whether Joyce will be accepting of Jeff’s gay nature could be a problem, given that she quickly departs Harry and Jeff’s house after spying a gay magazine there.
The play looks closely at the impact being gay can have on people’s lives. Harry, for example, tells Jeff about the problems a family woman – his mother and Jeff’s grandmother – had because people became aware of her gayness. Initially loved by everyone, she often received foul-mouthed comments from those looking after her in her old age.
Stevens opened the play’s fourth wall by having characters talking directly to audience members about issues they have faced in their lives.
This is very demanding on the actors because they have to step out of the story, then return to it, but it also gets watchers involved.
While Stevens, who moved to New Zealand then Australia after spending his early years as the son of a British air force engineer based in Palestine, wrote many acclaimed works for stage, television and radio, he tried unsuccessfully in the last two years of the 1980s to get The Sum of Us staged in Australia.
But it won quick recognition in the United States after he moved there in 1989, first with a production at the University of Southern California and then, in 1990, having a year-long run at New York’s Cherry Lane Theatre, which won the 1991 Outer Critics Circle Award for an Outstanding Off-Broadway play.
The play was subsequently given its Australian premiere by Sydney Theatre Company in 1992 and, two years later, it became a film with Jack Thompson as Harry and Russell Crowe as Jeff, that was a box-office hit. The play has continued to be produced around the world since then.
The Newcastle production will also be a tribute to David Stevens who died last July at age 77 in his home in New Zealand.
Annette Rowlison notes that playgoers identify with the relationship between the story’s father and son.
Playgoers identify with the relationship between the story’s father and son.
“It shows the familiarity we have with each other,” she said.
Alan Glover said that he saw and enjoyed the film, so the chance to study the play and be part of it was great.
“I like the depths of the characters, with Harry giving advice to his son that he himself ignores,” he said. “And it’s a very funny play.”
The Sum of Us will have 7.30pm performances at the Royal Exchange on Friday and Saturday, February 1 and 2, nightly from Thursday, February 7, to Saturday, February 9, and a 5pm show on Sunday, February 3. Tickets: $25, $22.50 concession. trybooking.com.
WHEN Newcastle playwright Vanessa Bates was commissioned by Western Australia’s Barking Gecko Theatre to adapt Gabrielle Wang’s children’s novel A Ghost in My Suitcase for the stage she had no idea how widely the show would travel.
Barking Gecko, which focuses on family friendly shows, premiered the play at the Melbourne Festival last October to good reviews. It is now at the Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre until January 19, as part of the Sydney Festival, then plays at the Perth Festival from February 26 to March 3.
A Ghost in My Suitcase has a 12-year-old part-Chinese girl who was raised in Australia travelling to China to take her late mother’s ashes to her ancestral home. What begins as a sorrowful journey transforms into a supernatural adventure once nervous Celeste meets her strong and kindly Chinese grandmother, Por Por. Her grandmother is a ghost hunter, who releases the mischievous and malevolent spirits who haunt the homes of the living. Celeste discovers that she also has a talent for ghost-hunting.
The play is suitable for children aged 8 and over. The show runs for 75 minutes, without interval.