Theatre review: Once We Lived Here at Kings Head Theatre

king's head
Belinda Wollaston as Lecy Iestyn Arwel as Shaun, Melle STewart as Amy

king's head Belinda Wollaston as Lecy Iestyn Arwel as Shaun, Melle STewart as Amy - Credit: Archant

Jaunty songs armed with droll wit and pith might sound like a recipe for success for a new musical set in Australia but, if anything, the residual heavy lesson of Once We Lived Here is the vital importance of that notion known as “story”.

This bountiful play at the Kings Head is burdened by a confused narrative. On the one hand, it is about the demise of family run farms. It tells the tale of a small family who are pushed to consider abandoning their home, their business and source of livelihood because of a prolonged drought that has beset them. It is a topical issue of noble value. On the other hand, it deviates with worrying frequency into sitcom drama, wallowing in love affairs and the travails of a dysfunctional family. It dips into farce and sincerity. It drops in and out of thematic intention with the commitment of a serial philanderer.

It is dizzyingly disorientating and frustratingly hard to pin down. No dramatic impulse is satisfyingly explored. For example, the crushing commercial reality for the majority of family run farms is not referenced with any level of detail. There is also never enough invested in the characters to truly empathise with their personal woes. Consequently, their tribulations wash over the audience without any real impact.

In the attempt to tick off each box in the theatrical checklist, this promising musical becomes far less than the sum of its parts.

On a positive note, the performances are committed, spirited and, despite a few wonky harmonies early on, commendably effective. This ensemble does their level best to hold things together.

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It is just a pity that the blue sky responsible for the drought didn’t appear metaphorically for the writing. Once We Lived Here is a disappointment that isn’t without occasional charm and momentary flashes of success. In the main, however, it is served up as an arid emotional experience.

Until April 26.

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Rating: Two stars

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