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Castle Hill Players: The Appleton Ladies' Potato Race - Review by Kimberlea Smith

Running 90 minutes with no interval, The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race is a laugh-out-loud play that is simultaneously a love letter to and criticism of small-town Australia. After having to postpone their original opening night, Castle Hill Players have opened their production of this charming play to a very appreciative audience.

Director Bernard Teuben notes that he loves directing Australian plays and showing Australian characters in all their glory and that does come across – you can tell that the cast, crew and creative team have put a lot of love into this production. Abby Bishop’s set design is minimal but effective and Jan Mahoney’s costumes tell you so much about the characters before the actors even open their mouths. Sean Churchward’s lighting design nicely complements Teuben’s sound design.

The stand-out performance of the show is Gina Willison as Barb Ling. Willison’s Barb is joyous and Willison deftly handles both the comedic and dramatic elements of Barb’s arc – it is an absolute delight to watch her on stage. Every scene that Barb is in benefits from Willison’s command of the stage and her presence elevates the performances around her. Julianne Horne gives a sympathetic performance as Bev Armstrong, a strong-willed woman grappling with illness. Bev can be quite cutting in one scene and vulnerable the next, and Horne plays both sides of the character with great empathy. Willison and Horne are often scene partners and bounce off each other quite well, with Barb’s warmth and cheerfulness contrasting nicely against Bev’s impatience and irritability.

Jacqui Wilson adds some levity to the show as rough-around-the-edges single mum Nikki Armstrong. In the wrong hands Nikki could be quite an obnoxious character, but even in the character’s worst moments, Wilson’s Nikki is likeable. Madhavi Shankarling is making her stage debut as relative newcomer Rania Hamid, a refugee who has escaped from Syria with her teenage daughter. You would never guess that this is Shankarling’s first time performing - she is confident and self-assured, and looks very at-home on the stage. Karen Pattinson rounds out the cast as Penny Anderson, an outsider in her hometown. Perhaps due to opening night nerves, early scenes didn’t seem to gel as well as you’d expect in a five-hander, but as they settled into their performances the ladies created engaging relationships in order to tell this story.

All in all, Teuben and his team have created a very enjoyable piece of theatre. With a shortened run due to cast illness, you best be in quick if you want a ticket!

Three 20-kilo potato sacks out of five.

Photo Credit to Chris Lundie

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