Summer of the Seventeenth Doll is widely regarded as the first classic Australian play and proves this by having been on high school drama curriculum for at least 30 years. The play centres around two cane cutters, Roo and Barney, who every year for the past 17 years travel down to Melbourne during the lay-off to party hard with their girls in the city. This year – the 17th year - is different, however. One of the girls, Nancy, has just got married and everything seems to be off-kilter and not as it should be.
I had never seen any production of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll before so had no expectations or comparision. I had to say though, judging by the audience response, this will be a very successful production. Every actor did a sterling job. Alison Whyte as Olive, Roo's long-standing girl carried the mood of the play from first steps through to the bitter end. Helen Thomson provided almost every laugh as the refined Pearl Cunningham persuaded to stay in place of Nancy and made me think of a cross between Meryl Streep's Julia Child in Julie and Julia and Hyacinth Bucket from Keeping Up Appearances. Yes, that is a compliment somehow. Steve Le Marquand and Travis McMahon as Roo and Barney were nothing if not up to the eyeballs full of beer and testosterone and total Australian-ness.
Alison Whyte and Steve Le Marquand as Olive and Roo. Photo courtesy of the Queensland Theatre Cmpany.
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll is a raw and emotional play and I'd be lying if I said the second and third acts were relaxing or uplifting. However, seeing this excellent production makes it clear why this is a piece of classic Australian culture, made all the better because it can still be enjoyable and recognisable to modern audiences as much as it's original 1953 production. I would recommend going to see it.