Regional concerns come to Bondi in the shape of Felix Nobis’ Boy Out of the Country, a family drama set in regional Victoria.
Its protagonist is Hunter (played by Tom Harwood), who has returned to his hometown after seven years away. Much has changed.
Investors have bought up tracts of land for housing developments. The main street shops have gone, killed off by a new supermarket. The bank is now a café called The Bank and the historic police lock-up is about to be shuttered.
But hardest of all for Hunter is the sight of the home he grew up in with mum Margaret and older brother Gordon (Jason Glover). Boarded up and fenced off, it’s about to be sold at auction.
The paddocks Hunter used to roam are already being staked out for residential estates and Margaret (Jeannie Gee) has been steered into a gloomy retirement home by Gordon, who stands to profit handsomely from any deal he can strike with developers. Hunter decides to put a stop to the sale, even if means cutting whatever family ties he has left.
Drawing on the tradition of the Bush poets, Nobis rhymes much of the dialogue, most of it quite subtly. Most of the time, you aren’t really aware of it. His language and bristles with salty turns of phrase you seldom hear in our coastal cities these days, but that directness isn’t apparent in the storytelling.
Explanatory speeches tend to ramble and a plot twist involving a DNA paternity test conducted by the garrulous local cop Walker (played by Stan Kouros) seems implausible.
What begins promisingly as a story about a man’s resistance to change devolves into sudsy small town melodrama reminiscent of A Country Practice.
Director Erica Lovell’s production is a skeletal one played on a set of colourfully lit corrugated iron and wooden boxes (Tom Bannerman). The triteness in parts of the play is hard to overcome but led by Harwood, the cast generate some involving moments between solidly drawn and well-shaded characters.
Will The Boy Out of the Country strike a chord with a big smoke audience? You’d have to be an optimist to think it might.