Reviews/Fringe World Festival/Theatre

Back-seat dramas

21 January 2020

A power-packed cast really delivers for award-winning playwright Izzy McDonald in French Over, says David Zampatti.

Review: Rorschach Beast, French Over ·
Blue Room Theatre, 19 January 2020 ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

“Park in a circle. Camp in the middle. Don’t die.”

These rules appear on all the fliers for the Final Bonfire, held at the end of every school year on Little Brooke Farm, somewhere in the WA bush.

Like “Let’s be careful out there” or “Watch out for the roos”, it may be sound advice, but sometimes it’s impossible to take.

The Final Bonfire tradition was started 10 years ago by three school mates, Mack (Alicia Osyka), Elliot and Lil. It’s grown every year as more and more ex-students make the pilgrimage back from wherever their lives have taken them to gather around the fire outside the little town where they grew up.

Betty (Charlotte Otten) has hitched a lift down in Mack’s Kombi van – she’s back in town reluctantly, and with some unfinished business. Now she piles into Jimmy Butcher’s beat-up old hand-me-down car, and, as it turns out, Jimmy (Isaac Diamond) is only the latest of the Butcher brothers to have crossed her path.

In another car, Liz (‘Ana Ika) and Gina (Tess Metcalf) have won places at UWA – both have the urge to go, but only one of them can.

We sit in the back seats of the cars and on mattresses in the Kombi while these dramas play out up front – and we learn the meaning of the rules.

The playwright, Izzy McDonald, shows all the nuanced sensitivity and gift for dialogue here that was displayed in her Bus Boy, which won the Martin Sims Award at Fringe World 2017.

And now she has a power-packed cast to deliver for her.

Osyka, in particular, shows again what a devastating actor she can be, the ghosts of tears once shed welling behind her. Camp in the middle. Don’t die.

But despite its considerable virtues, there’s a dramaturgical flaw to French Over: while we learn about the past, we don’t drive forward from it into the future.

The connections between the characters are incidental (and in the case of Liz and Gina, non-existent). What we watch are vignettes, not scenes.

Betty, Jimmy, Liz, Gina and Mack gather at the fire, but, in French Over, they don’t do it together.

French Over runs until 31 January 2020 at the Blue Room Theatre.

Pictured top are Tess Metcalf and ‘Ana Ika in French Over. Photo: Annie Harvey

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

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