@ The Venue, 5 Leicester Place, London WC2H 7BP

27 Jul – 23 Sep 2006
Mon-Sat 8pm
Sat Matinee 3pm
Tickets: ?25, concs ?19, Matinees ?20
Group discount available (10 or more)

Melanie Tait acted in much the same way as many of her young Australian brethren do when reaching the shores of England – she got a flatshare, she got drunk, she got laid. Same old story except, at the age of only 20, Melanie then put all of her experiences into a fringe play called The Vegemite Tales. The play became a hit and over the next few years the fringe grew out into a West End 8-weeker, now showing at the simply-named-for-a-reason ‘Venue’ theatre (“What venue is it at then?” – “Umm, The Venue, mate” – “Oh, right, cheers”).

As friend to many an Australian and seemingly token English bloke, I took my place in the crowd with a feeling similar to that of an outsider stepping into a outback Aussie pub. It was certain to get rowdy. The amount of crudeness and vulgarity I experienced during the 2-hour play was directly proportionate to the size of the Australian landmass itself – bloody massive and quite frankly, I loved every minute of it. I felt right at home amongst my Aussie counterparts thanks, in part, to a very familiar living room stage set, the provision of VB beer at the bar (situated right next to the action) and the quintessential piss puddles dowsed all over the toilet seat before the performance.

The basic premise of the play is just that – basic. Six-to-a-house flatsharers Gumtreeing their way through London life, avoiding the natives wherever possible and escaping whatever demons forced them out of Oz in the first place. The characters are all very recognisable (some painfully close to home) and there are some some neat behavioural observations akin to the fabulous Kath & Kim TV show or legendary Castle movie. Indeed, many of the jokes will require a second viewing, much to the promoters delight.

The play is mainly centred around the interaction between its participants, sporadically – and unnecessarily – interspersed with the odd moaning monologue (about the British banking system, tax system, etc). It doesn’t focus much on their experiences of London itself. But maybe that’s the point. Aside from the odd Willesden Green or Shepherd’s Bush reference, there isn’t much else to do with London. I tell a lie, St Mary Axe, or the Gherkin as we affectionately call it, did get a mention. But even that was only in passing (about its shape being similar to that of the male appendage).

The main character, Sam, and his portrayer, Andrew Robb, stole the show by convincing the audience that they were, collectively, one of his mates and part of the orphan family. The overall acting was dictated by the strength of the characters being played: Blair McDonough, once of Neighbours, was suitably vibrant; Tom Sangster, as Eddie the OTT dosser, was flamboyantly overacted; whilst all the emotive scenes were stereotypically handled by the ladies. In a show oozing with clich?s there were a few diamond opportunites missed from the line-up, with the exclusion of a bleached-blonde Pole, a slovenly South African male and a fleece-wearing Kiwi.

It was good to see, however, that the Man?el character from Fawlty Towers (in this instance an Italian named Gio) still lives xenophobically on and remains a part of our comedy today, despite first being dreamt up years before most of us (you) were born.

The overall enjoyment of the play was as much about crowd participation as it was the script. Perfectly-timed audience flatulence or sniggering during the only ‘serious’ scenes are perfect ways to really engage with the performance. A comment from one of the punters coming out after the show said it all really:

“Fuck, that was fucking funny, eh.”

Despite there not being a straight face or dry eye in the place, the script possibly needs updating. When it was first written it would’ve been cutting edge and original but now some of the jokes are all too familiar. Sharpening up the edges and making it more contemporary would probably spruce it up and it is good to know that its creator, Melanie Tait, is currently working on a television serialisation of The Vegemite Tales.

Although it is a play, this is certainly not anything like ‘high culture’. It’s nearer to the culture that grows in old yoghurt pots at the back of your fridge than the Olivier kind of culture (he was an actor, c’mon people!). This is of no matter, though, because once you chosen this as your fulfillment of weekly filth you can make up the difference by attending Cinderella at the Royal Opera House later in the week (before then ruining it all again with a Friday night trip to the ‘Walkie’).

Predictable yet addictively humourous, perfect for a certain type of audience.

Not for people who spend Sunday afternoons at church and find it easy to help the less fortunate.

Definitely for people who spend Sunday afternoons at THE Church and find it easy to laugh at those less fortunate.

As an aside note, let us dispell of the argument, once and for all, that Marmite is as good as Vegemite. I love Britain and all that she stands for – pie & mash as a healthy alternative to fish & chips, a yearning to be burnt by the sun, smoking kids hanging out in shopping malls gobbing at passers-by – but when it comes to yeast and toast, the Australians have it made. End of.