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Seven Little Australians - Stirling Theatre

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

Reviewed by Kate O'Sullivan


It's always nice to see Australian stories being represented on community theatre stages, and Stirling Theatre have brought the classic Ethel Turner novel, Seven Little Australians, to life in this youth-led musical.

It is always tough on a cast when illness runs havoc, especially when understudies and swings have to jump onto the stage. In saying that, it was great to see a cast rally around each other and support each other on stage to get the show done, especially from the youth members of the cast.

With a lot of different characters across the show, it would be difficult to mention all the performers. Escher Roe was particularly strong as Judy, the driving force of a lot of the drama in the show, especially in the second act as we got to see multiple facets of the character. Kerry Goode as Martha and Guy Jackson as Monsieur Marceau gave us a wonderful moment of levity in their smaller roles (I've never been more amused by someone describing the making of Tea). Ann Speicher also clearly has fun as the dictatorial Miss Burton, head of the boarding school, and Mila Campbell (at an 'experienced' 4 years old) is a perfect casting choice as the youngest child, "The Little General". Both Ciara Malone and Riley Merigan give us a glimpse into an adorable courtship as Meg and Alan Courtney respectively. The ensemble does well to characterise the world, and each have their small moments to shine.

Mathew Leak has been given the unenviable task of portraying Captain Woolcot, the father of the Seven. Unfortunately, whilst he looks the part and sings the role well, we never quite believe him as a powerful, discipline-driven father who the children fear. Without this strength, some of the other characters' reactions to him become confusing. There are some elements of the blocking that don't help this, as well as the actor being over a decade younger than the character he is portraying. Ron Arthur's portrayal of Colonel Bryant had a similar issue, coming across as less "Discipline" as his song would indicate, and more doddering fool.

The costuming of this show was commendable, really grounding the show in Sydney in the late 1800s. It was also lovely to see costuming that took into account the ages of the characters as well as the comfort of the performers. There were a couple of moments where leading characters blended in when it would have been nice to see them stand out a little more (such as in Walking The Block), but it is a testament to how consistent the costuming was that this was the issue. We had significant sound issues the night we attended, with the balance of the band and the actors being out of whack, and some mics having gain issues. The band seemed well rehearsed, with good stylistic changes for the different numbers. The lighting worked well, especially in scenes where the children used the extreme downstage corners and the addition of colour in the musical numbers.

This show swaps back and forth between a lot of repeated locations, a difficult task for blocking and stage crew alike. It would have been nice to see a little less use of the curtain, and more splitting of the stage width to allow for these to be faster and to keep us invested in the story as an audience. With a lot of the solo musical numbers sung statically in front of the bright red curtain, it separated them from the scenes and the show. The choreography of the larger numbers by Madeleine Shaw (who was also onstage as an ensemble cover the night we attended) was excellent, connecting these numbers into the show well.

In general, whilst full of potential, the show never felt complete. It was never quite clear from the script why a lot of the events were happening, and who we were supposed to side with. This may come down to there not being a clear leading character for us to follow as an audience - we spend time with Captain Woolcot, his new wife Esther, and his daughters Judy and Meg, with quite varied plot threads, which means we're never quite sure who’s plotline we are meant to follow until the second Act.

On the whole, we are along for the ride through the Australian countryside. With some lovely ensemble moments and some familiar feeling characters, this Australian musical is worth a look, especially for those who are fans of the book.

Mathew Leak (Captain Woolcot) and Escher Roe (Judy). Image Credit: Nico Keppler.

Reviewer Note: Kate has previously worked as a teacher alongside the director of this show. Tickets for this review were provided by the theatre company.


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