Review: The Girl Green as Elderflower

Mesmerising, musical drama

By Samuel Barson 

Five years since his death, Australian-born author Randolph Stow remains an elusive, mesmerising and mysterious presence in Australia’s literary landscape. His stories continue to multiply and grow, yet Stow’s audiences are still unable to fully understand who the man truly was. His 1980 novel, The Girl Green as Elderflower is as close as we get to a biography of his. The tale of its protagonist Crispin Clare and his task of putting together life’s broken pieces as he recuperates from a life-threatening disease almost echoes the aftermath of the author’s mental and physical breakdown, which he experienced after serving as a patrol officer in the Trobriand Islands.

Stow’s original novel has been competently adapted for the stage by Richard Davies, and celebrated Australian director Sara Grenfell has orchestrated a vibrant and talented ensemble cast for La Mama’s Courthouse Theatre, that (mostly) honours Stow’s original work to a high standard.

Leading the cast is Billy Sloane as Cris. Sloane brings some solid moments of charisma and empathy to the role and has a gorgeous voice to match. Highlights amongst the cast included the compulsively watchable Nicholas Bell in his dual role of Mikey/Robin, Alice Albon as the cheeky (and at times seriously scary) Malkin and Liam Dodds as the smooth and charming Matthew. The rest of the ensemble all brought considerable contributions throughout the night however it was sometimes hard to avoid the feeling certain actors may not have had the necessary understanding of the text to really do their characters justice.

Lighting and sound design by Shane Grant and Ryan Smedley was positively consuming and certainly came to be appreciated during some moments where the script’s action became a bit dry and un-evolving. The mystical elements of the play were brilliantly showcased by both designers’ decisions to tap into the absurd and exaggerated in their designs. Christina Logan-Bell’s set design was impressively adaptable and multi-faceted with scene changes often occurring before the audience had even realised.

The play certainly could have run the risk of falling into poetic monotony if it weren’t for the inclusion of Davies’ music score. The range of musical numbers throughout the play was highly appreciated, and musical director Shelley Dunlop did a superb job of creating such an entertaining musical landscape. There was not a fault when it came to the cast’s singing talents.

Grenfell is to be applauded for tackling such a complex narrative and for bringing it to life for audiences. Despite the often overly slow pace and actors’ detachment from the script, it was a solid production with all the desired bells and whistles.

The Girl Green As Elderflower plays at La Mama Courthouse Theatre until 31 March. Tickets can be purchased online or by contacting the box office at 03 9347 6948.

Photograph: Jack Dixon Gunn