Directed by Sahn Millington
542 King Street, Newtown
Season: 17 November – 19 December
The tenacity of women shone during WWII when the men left their homes to fight and the women remained, left to take on the men’s jobs, which they were previously thought incapable of doing. Of course, they took it in their stride, maintaining a strong home front, allowing the men to continue fighting. Sahn Millington’s Dinkum Assorted follows one of these stories during the 1940s at the Dinkum Assorted Biscuit Factory in a small country town in Northern Queensland. The humanity of the women involved is showcased, resulting in an overwhelming sense of respect for these Home Front fighters, grappling with fear, exhaustion, austerity and an immense emotional pressure to stay strong for those around them. Whilst a little slow at points, this production succeeds comically in its most genial moments and is emotionally touching.
Dinkum Assorted focuses on the main narrative of women working in a biscuit factory and trying to hold onto their jobs in the face of threatened closure of the factory, in amongst wartime austerity and tumultuous living conditions. However, intertwined in this main storyline is a number of sub-narratives, bringing to light the backgrounds of numerous characters. With a cast of 15 women, the stage is often brimming with a hullabaloo of action and the sub-narratives allow for greater complexity in the characterisations. Unfortunately, I struggled to develop strong feelings in response to the main plot, of the impending factory closure. Dialogue felt too drawn out, seemingly allocating long periods of time to the topic knowing that it is supposed to be critical to the play, and yet the issue just didn’t ring true. There appeared to be some problems with the tightness of the play, which hopefully will be smoothed out as the season progresses. In scenes where the stage is crowded with the majority of the cast, the show took a very loud tone and the actors were often forced to compete with the sound effects, which became a little strained. It shows that it can be difficult to emulate a bustling scene with a full stage without detracting from the overall dramatic effect.
In spite of some issues, there is great work to enjoy by many of the actors. An initially rocky relationship between the enigmatic and romantic Joan, played by Sonya Kerr, and the coarse and stingy Connie, played by Debra Bryan, slowly flourishes. Both characters have faced vast struggles and yet push on with heads held high. Kerr conveyed a strong sense of mystery and it is intriguing to observe the unfurling of her story. Bryan exhibits an enormous character development, at first undertaking the role of an irksome antagonist, and yet reveals a softer core cultivating sympathy from the audience. Bodelle De Ronde gives a stirring performance as Millie, with a quiet allure in her stage presence. De Ronde gifts the audience with an understated poignancy in her relatively brief time on stage, which augments the emotional depth of the play. Amanda Laing and Hannah Raven as Vi and Smith Rosie perform with a comic exuberance that is delightful for audiences. With chaotic sub-plots including the capture of the Yankee goat mascot and the pursuit of recognition for Vi’s ability as a tap dancer provide ample amusement. Laing and Raven bounce off each other throughout the show, which culminates in a lively tap performance of great skill, that is of course not without comic flair.
A climactic event in the play is the Dinkum Assorted musical show, staged to lift wartime spirits for the US Soldiers stationed outside the small country town, as well as displaying Vi’s talent in dance as she choreographs the show. The audience receives only a small taste of the song and dance throughout the show, which is largely encumbered by the tepid enthusiasm of many of the characters. However the final musical number comes to the fore with great gusto, to the audience’s glee. The simple, yet effective, choreography and music is enhanced by the hilarious costuming, designed by Kiara Mullooly. With consistently authentic 1940s attire adorning the actors throughout the production, certain scenes require garments a little out of the ordinary – and Mullooly’s designs respond with a roar, with a similar audible audience response. The set and prop design is also impressive, by David Marshall-Martin, providing the actors with a flexible workspace that transforms the settings. There is a great attention to detail in the acquisition of a plethora of props, including a remarkable contraption that takes the form of a biscuit factory machine.
Dinkum Assorted highlights the dichotomy between the concept of ‘men’s work’ and the role of women, and yet the undeniable capability of women to bear the unbearable prevails. With a canny humour injected into the work and moments of tenderness, we see a broad gamut of personality inherent in these female characters. For some reason, over 70 years later, our society still needs reminding of the boundless strength within women who continue to be subordinated. Fortunately Dinkum Assorted provides one splendid reminder of the durability and vitality of women, when their surroundings seem to be falling apart.