True Love Travels on a Gravel Road

Peter Green – 3MBS

It’s not often that you are in the opening night audience of the premiere of an Australian classic. I have been twice: 8 March 1971 A Stretch of the Imagination from Jack Hibberd at The Pram Factory, and David Williamson’s Don’s Party – same company, APG; same venue, The Pram Factory, Carlton.

On Thursday night I was downstairs 45 to True Love Travels on a Gravel Road from Jane Miller, directed by Beng Oh. Whilst perhaps not an Australian classic, I knew I was watching a play that will stay in the repertoire for some time – not just a flash in the theatrical pan.

What is True Love Travels on a Gravel Road? Well, if it needs clarification then I would call it a splendid example of Australian small country town or suburb farce in the stable that gave us On Our Selection, And the Big Men Fly from Alan Hopgood, 1963; Jack Hibberd, the most performed play in Australia, Dimboola; and let’s add a film, Muriel’s Wedding.

Maggie (Emily Goddard) dreams of Elvis Presley and a pilgrimage to Graceland and although married, as she told us earlier, is having an affair – well, having it off with Jake (Glenn van Oosterom) who’s “a few sheep short of a paddock”. He’s slow and very enthusiastic about Maggie – he can accommodate one idea at a time – he’s an innocent and thus very dangerous. There’s Sam (Chris Broadstock) always unsure about his wife Angie (Marnie Gibson) and there’s Richard (David Kambouris) who seems to be the town paranoiac who passes himself off as dangerous.

Jane Miller’s writing is good and I think much improved on Happily Ever After and she knows how to plot and get maximum value from the Australian vernacular. Beng Oh’s direction is spot on, moving the play on at full pace, all this in a cleverly designed set of corrugated iron (cardboard) the architectural vernacular of most Australian country towns.

I can’t finish without comment on Elizabeth McColl as Glenda, Maggie’s mum – a total inhabitation of the matter of fact “say like I see it” character.

True Love Travels on a Gravel Road is very good, very funny (the audience never stopped laughing for the 80 minutes) and brings a fresh breeze of country town and all its lunacies to us as a reminder of where many of us started out.