WHEN Sydney playwright Mary Rachel Brown was commissioned by Wollongong’s Merrigong Theatre Company in 2011 to write a play she came up with the idea of setting it among people involved in dog racing in the city’s Dapto suburb.
While she was aware that Dapto was the site of one of Australia’s largest greyhound racing communities, she knew very little about dog racing and the people involved. So she hung out there for a few weeks watching training and races and had drinks and discussions with many of the racing practitioners.
The result was a comedy-drama, The Dapto Chaser, which has had rave reviews for stagings around Australia.
The result was a comedy-drama, The Dapto Chaser, which has had rave reviews for stagings around Australia, with audience members being engrossed during its unbroken 90-minute running time.
Michael Byrne, one of the founders of Newcastle theatre company Pencil Case Productions, saw a popular presentation of the show by Sydney’s Griffin Theatre Company in 2015. He so enjoyed it that he put it on his must-do list.
Pencil Case Productions will present The Dapto Chaser at the Creator Incubator in Hamilton North nightly from Thursday, February 28, until Saturday, March 2, at 8pm. While the play has only five characters, all males, it is being directed by Amy Wilde, who found the play to be very funny and moving when she read it. And Michael Byrne, who is one of the five actors, notes that Mary Rachel Brown was charmed by the people she met at the dog track.
The initial character seen, Errol Sinclair (played by Tim Blundell), has been involved with racing dogs for decades. He’s had to take a break, because he is seriously suffering from lung cancer. But that doesn’t stop him from constantly smoking, drinking and gambling, even though he’s now broke, or from fiddling with an old transistor radio so that he can hear what is happening at the Dapto dog track.
His wife having died, his two sons have to care for him, and they are also concerned that financial problems have left them with just one greyhound, called A Boy Named Sue, which can’t move rapidly enough when competing with other dogs. When Errol dies unexpectedly, the two sons – Jimmy (Michael Byrne) and his older brother, Cess (Carl Gregory) – find themselves penniless, so that they can’t afford to pay for their dad’s funeral.
Cess takes up a job offer from a corrupt dog owner and racer, Arnold Denny (Phillip Ross), who tries to force him to do things that will stop other hounds from outrunning his dogs. The fifth human character is an unseen race caller (Paul Sansom) who delivers a swift account of what is happening. Sansom has actually been to many greyhound races.
The dog, A Boy Named Sue, is never seen, with the actors miming his movements. They have had plenty of practice doing that in rehearsals as assistant director Phil McGrath has a greyhound, Jack, that he has brought in on several occasions.
The Creator Incubator is in block 15A of a former warehouse building at 50 Clyde Street, Hamilton North. Tickets, $25, stickytickets.com.au.
Strictly Murder. Maitland Repertory Theatre. Ends February 24.
THE skills of writer Brian Clemens in putting together thrilling stories in television shows including The Avengers and The Professionals were still active when he wrote the stage show Strictly Murder in 2006.
Opening in the dining room of a French country house in Provence in April, 1939, an English voice on a radio station is heard stating that England and France will get together to restrict Adolf Hitler if he tries to take back what he asserts is German territory in Poland. But, as this is followed by the English couple who occupy the house coming in and showing that they have unneeded differences, the ability of Brits to achieve that becomes questionable. And, as very different people arrive, mainly unexpectedly, queries arise about the pair’s relationship, and, inevitably, there is violence of a nature that would meet with the approval of crime writer Agatha Christie.
Director Steve Ryan, who has shown over the years how adept he is when acting in thrillers and directing them, keeps watchers largely sitting on the edge of their seats as events lead to revelations that the male occupant, Peter Meredith (James McCaffrey), is not the type of person he initially seems to be. But his partner, Suzy Hinchcliffe (Annalie Hamilton), is perhaps too complacent, especially when she questions why they haven’t married, despite being together for a long time.
The other people who appear at the house during a long day in the first act also raise issues. A German man, Josef (Paul Sansom), who enters the couple’s house through a stable door at one side of the fairly elegant living room, with a rifle hanging from his shoulder, and grabs hold of food, clearly does this frequently as he knows where everything is. And a man called Ross (Ian Robinson), who very unsmilingly declares he is an English detective, causes more stress – and damage – than he intends to do, though not without redress.
The second half, set six months later, has Suzy coming in very evidently pregnant. But more issues arise, with Robinson’s figure returning – or does he? – and a stern English woman, Miriam Miller (Dimity Eveleens), also appearing.
The staging works well, though the first act is overlong (the writer’s fault) and the lighting in some parts of the room is too dim.