The thing about The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race is that it’s fun. Just fun. Sure, it’s using a simple country event to highlight some toxic global issues, but you don’t walk out at the end feeling battered and bruised by the message. You walk out with a smile on your face and a spring in your step, because the criticism is gentle; honest without being brutal, funny without being barbed.
The play, written by ABC broadcaster, author and playwright Melanie Tait, is triggered by Tait’s own experience in her Southern Highlands hometown of Robertson, the home of the Big Potato and where the Australian Championship Potato Races began in 1969. In fictional Appleton, the potato races are also the highlight of the annual show, the men running with a 50kg sack of potatoes on their shoulders, the women carting 20 kg.
New GP, Penny, (Sharon Millerchip) has returned to Appleton, more sophisticated and cosmopolitan than when she left for university and definitely broader of mind than her cousin, hairdresser and potato race champion Nikki, (Amber McMahon).
Tough Bev (Valerie Bader), fiercely protective over her community and its culture, has coordinated the show and the potato race for decades, aided by her best friend, Barb (Merridy Easman) a more flexible and indulgent character, unafraid of change, but a little afraid of Barb. Artist Rania (Sapidah Kian), a worldly and wise Syrian refugee, is entirely aware of her conditional acceptance in the community, but slowly introducing change. Who wouldn’t fancy a goat curry at the local country show?
The not so patient Penny is the one who slaps the community in the face with her indignation over the $1,000 prize money offered to the winner of the men’s potato race, compared with the paltry $200 offered to the women. Her drive for equality divides the town and attracts global attention.
The story is a delightful exercise in gently drawing a local community, as yet untouched by more refined city influences, let alone political correctness, together into the present. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, with wonderfully crisp dialogue reminding us of those living within our own tribes. Trust me, we all know a Bev, a Penny, a Rania, Barb and Nikki, and while at times they drive us nuts, they’re the mates we rely on to chip us when we’re wrong and hug us when we get it right.
See it this weekend. It’s a great yarn.
The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race is at Glen Street Theatre until Sunday, May 16. Tickets are available from glenstreet.com.au