December 01, 1990

Magpie Theatre Company


Mango Season

by Michael Doneman

Directed by Angela Chaplin

Design : Kathryn Sproul

Choreography : Belinda Saltmarsh

Cast: Nick Hope, Claire Jones,

Kate Roberts, Peter Wood plus

Unley Youth Theatre – Roz Evans, Arabella Gryst, Emma Sheldon, Freya Newton, Alison Walsh, Alex Witham, Sara Oliver, Hayley Smith, Diarmid Lee, Sarah Marr, Ben Kempster.

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

Mango Season is the fruit of a Creative Development Project formed between Michael and Ludmila Doneman’s Brisbane based Contact company, Darwin’s Corrugated Iron , the Two to Five Youth Company in Newcastle and Magpie in Adelaide.Using the subject of the Rain Forest as their general canopy the companies  generated a variety of activities, excursions, workshops and works for performance.

There can be few more dedicated workers in youth theatre than Doneman and, as a consequence of his flying hours as a teacher, no one with more good sense about the needs and dignity of young audiences. It is a pity, then, that Mango Season is not a success.

Presenting issues as detailed and intertwined as global warming and the eco-political debate that has heated up in recent years is a daunting task for a playwright aiming at Upper Primaries. The material is abstract and complex especially when Doneman is wanting to define the cultural ideological and intellectual mindsets which prevent us from recognising and acknowledging that our arses are on fire.

Everybody knows that writing about the environment is a downer. You end up sounding like Nostradamus with a migraine. The news is all bad and the fine detail is enough to make you want to go home and pull the duna over your head. With economic strategies even more cancerously committed to the notion of growth and green issues cynically reduced to recycled paper and re-usable shopping bags there is no sensible public debate to which educators and artists can connect. Policy makers are anxious not to frighten the horses and, quite reasonably, nobody wants to frighten the children.

In Mango Season, Michael Doneman and director Angela Chaplin are looking for a new angle – Greenhouse with anti-naturalistic comedy. Tired of the standard TIE “problem” melodramas, their objectives are evident and admirable. But it hasn’t worked and, frankly, I wonder how it could have . Mother Nature is telling us that all things are not very bright or beautiful and we refuse to read her lips. Global warming is an uncomfortable fact as are all the associated forms of environmental injury brought on by our toxic lifestyle. That is something that can’t be said plainly  enough. It is also hard to find anything that is very funny about it.

The mango season refers to the sub-tropical summer, it is also an expression for things out of control. In his Mango Season Michael  Doneman has written a chirpy piece about a mango tree that sprouts out of a railway platform. The implication is a subtle one (too subtle I’m afraid) that the temp must have raised a point or five to have tropical fruits shooting out of the ground in the temperate zones. Four different characters come to investigate this phenomenon and create a Socratic dialogue around the hapless plant which has the first botanical speaking part since Bill and Ben’s Weed.

As their names suggest, the four represent the entrenched views we have of our reality. Splinter (Kate Roberts) is the specialist who makes maps and collects detail but fails to connect it to the Big Picture. Diesel (Claire Jones) is the worker and unionist tied to industrial self-interest -understandably, when it is she who is asked to forgo material well-being to salve other consciences. Haircut (Nick Hope) is the hippie-punk parodically committed to a simplistically greenie line while Inkwell (Peter Wood ) represents the unworldly, cerebral intellectual.

Against these static, and often listless exchanges Angela Chaplin has sought to invigorate the show with the help of choreographer Belinda Saltmarsh. Eleven players from Unley Youth form a cohort of Greeneyes, spirit figures who inhabit apparently empty places such as apparently empty railway stations. Doneman has another whole story going on here – the idea of unacknowledged presences is also an interesting one , important in any discussion of the natural world- but he does not find a way of making it mesh. Consequently the group work, aided by Kathryn Sproul’s boldly expressionistic costumes and heavily patterned backdrop and stage, operate as much to provide colour and movement as to integrate the meanings of the work.

The players give it a good whirl but to little avail. Nick Hope desperately borrows a bit of Alexie Seyle, Claire Jones is derivately broad as the Aussie prole and Kate Roberts as Splinter is dippy and inscrutable . Similarly Peter Wood’s baggy clown, while energetic, is disconnected from the pedantic, owlish Inkwell. It is an unhelpful cliche in its obviousness while much that he has to say is incomprehensible to the target audience. It is fine for Doneman and Chaplin to expect a lot of young audiences but the obscurity and abstraction of Mango Season doesn’t give anyone enough of a fighting chance.

“Mango Season” Lowdown, December, 1990, p.45.

1 Comment »

  1. , “Hi”.I was like, “Hi, Michael!”. But you know, a lot of people did that.It was funny thguoh the movie experience was different depending on which crowd was there. Of course when we were there with die hard Michael fans, it was a blast!!!!I think the only time I cried is when the little girl holding the world came on. I really loved that Michael cared out the Planet, even thguoh the planet sure didn’t care about him like they should and that brought tears to my eyes, but only for a few minutes. It was a wonderful movies! Thanks for sharing your experience!

    Comment by Alberto — August 5, 2012 @ 8:18 am

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