Swan Hill: A place to be

YEARS (decades?) ago, there was a large sign at the southern highway entrance to Swan Hill, just where the highway divides into two, that proudly proclaimed, “Welcome to Swan Hill. It’s got the lot.”

The cast of Swan Hill Theatre Group's latest production Spamalot. One of the show's greatest fans is The Guardian's long-time entertainment reviewer Barrie Bales. Picture: TRUDY ROSE

The cast of Swan Hill Theatre Group's latest production Spamalot. One of the show's greatest fans is The Guardian's long-time entertainment reviewer Barrie Bales. Picture: TRUDY ROSE

To put it mildly, that was overstating it.

We didn’t have the Parthenon, da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the Vienna Opera, no Norwegian fjords, nor wide sandy beaches leading to warm waters teeming with lobsters waiting to be caught.

But we did have, and still have, lots of things that help make Swan Hill a good place to live.

One of them is our local theatre group.

Years ago, there was the Shakespeare festival, under Marjorie McLeod’s direction.

Lasting a week, there were nightly productions of the chosen play, a themed Ball, shop displays, a leading actor was hired from Melbourne.

A stream of locals took over her mantle, and there has been a steady flow of productions, with Ron Field’s London created professionalism ensuring continuing high standards.

It isn’t an adverse criticism to state that Swan Hill has gifted amateurs — often very gifted — giving spirit to the productions.

It is unfair to compare a Melbourne/Sydney/ New York/London with all their resources to one in Swan Hill.

But the Theatre Group is ours, and it is us.

We do far better than can be expected.

This was clear with the recent production of Spamalot.

Stiff cheddar if you didn’t see it, for it was really good, even if you aren’t geared to Monty Python absurdity.

Any production has its stars, then main supporting cast, then what could loosely be called the chorus.

Its Darwinism, with the best coming to the top.

This didn’t happen with Spamalot.

Early, the “Laker Girls/ Dancers” (program notes) came on for their first dancing routine.

I waited for the likely slacking of quality. Not so. They danced with spirit, not missing a beat, all in time together with a reasonably detailed routine of tap dancing.

Tap, tap, tap, they beat out with precision, smiling with professional ease.

All of them are teenagers, so too Patsy, the first female lead, and Sir Robin, a leading co-star.

I arranged an interview with them where they could tell me about themselves and Swan Hill.

The average age of the eight was about 17. Many had been in previous productions. They didn’t suffer stage fright.

Despite their youth, they were experienced. One of them started dancing at age two. They didn’t regard the grind of rehearsals as a grind; it was part of the fun, part of the learning process to doing well.

They showed an obvious, and justified, pride in their achievements.

Several identified strongly with Swan Hill and the Mallee, two stating the area is beautiful.

Most likely all, but five are definitely going to leave Swan Hill for further education.

Two want to be involved in further theatre, one a Mus. Bach. (Singing), the other in acting (VCA?).

Another wants to be a primary teacher, where theatrical experience will be a great help.

Circumstances providing, several are likely to return to Swan Hill.

All want to continue to be involved in the theatre. The sad thing is that Swan Hill will lose their considerable contributions.

That’s life; ask the local sports clubs where sudden gaps appear at about age 18.

The enriching thing is that other places will gain them, and their talents will grow.

I wish them well, as do all of us who have had contact with them.

They are of us, as we are of them.

The heartening thing is that there are littl’uns running and playing around in Swan Hill who will take their place.

And so the cycle continues from the Theatre Group’s origins in 1943.

And Swan Hill will grow with them.

And we adults? As youth gives us the energy of renewal, so adults give the stability of continuity.

Swan Hill has quite a lot.

My heartfelt thanks to (in order of program notes): Bonnie Kelly, James Romeo, Zoe Pinchen, Phoebe Scalora, Sidney Mesley, Christine Romeo, Kasey O’Bree and Emma Kelly.

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