Saturday, May 23rd, 2015

A CLASSIC Australian play from the 1950s highlighting parallels with today’s fly-in, fly-out workers takes to the Old Mill Theatre stage in June.

Written by Ray Lawler and directed by Trevor Dhu, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll is considered by literary scholars to be the most significant in Australian theatre history because it provided a turning point where distinctly Australian life and characters were openly and authentically portrayed.

Two itinerant cane cutters, Barney and Roo, have spent the past 16 summers off with two ladies in Melbourne.

Every year, Roo has brought a tinsel doll to his girl Olive, as a gift to symbolise their relationship – but this 17th summer is different somehow.

All four lovers come to face certain unpleasant truths about themselves in what is described as an unusual, compelling love story, hailed by critics in New York for its vigour and integrity.

“The play is similar to our fly-in, fly-out workers and the women they meet when they return, trying to continue a relationship over an extended period of time,” Dhu said.

“In Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, the relationships are stretched by time and the untimely weakness of growing older and making a commitment too late between a man and a woman.

“On the surrounds of all this are friendships and new dominations of youth and regret.

“The ending is not what the lovers intend and the comforts of friendships and homeliness are destroyed – lovers part, and so do friends, and all lose.”

Involved in the performing arts for as long as he can remember, Dhu has worked with Patch and Playhouse Theatres, Perth City Ballet and did extensive professional work with the Australian Dance Theatre in the eastern states.

More recently, he has directed, choreographed and acted in various productions at the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre – most notably West Side Story and Jesus Christ Superstar – and also performed and directed at Harbour, Roleystone, Old Mill and Melville Theatres.

One of Dhu’s friends inspired him to direct Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, along with the raw realities of the characters he found after reading the play.

“It’s a classic but events like this from the past are still real today,” he said. “There are FIFO widows and plenty of stories of people who had it all and blew it. We always do the right thing but it’s too late.”

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll plays at 8pm June 5, 6, 11, 12, 13, 17, 18, 19 and 20 with a 2pm matinee June 14. Tickets are $25, $20 concession – book at or on (08) 9367 8719 or 0402 249249.

It is the third show in a year of all-Australian plays at the Old Mill Theatre to commemorate the centenary of the Gallipoli landing in 2015.

The heritage-listed Old Mill Theatre is on the corner of Mends Street and Mill Point Road, South Perth (opposite the Windsor Hotel and Australia Post).


doll1: The cast of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, clockwise from bottom: Phil Barnett, Anna Head, Jarrod Buttery, Jennifer McGrath, Patrick Whitelaw, Jesse McGinn and Shirley Toohey. Picture:

doll2: Anna Head plays Olive in Ray Lawler’s Australian classic Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. Picture:

doll3: Barney (Jarrod Buttery) and Roo (Phil Barnett, right) come to blows in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll as Pearl (Jennifer McGrath) looks on. Picture:

doll4: Johnnie (Patrick Whitelaw) and Bubba (Jesse McGinn) in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. Picture:

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Old Mill Theatre

South Perth's Old Mill Theatre is fortunate to be operating out of one of the most historic buildings in South Perth. It was opened in 1899 as a Mechanics' Institute Hall. The South Perth Council purchased the building in 1913 and renamed it the Mends Street Hall. The council still owns the building, and supports our use of it.

The building first became a home of theatre in 1948, when the South Perth Dramatic Society moved in. The name Old Mill Theatre was first used in 1958, and the company was incorporated in 1959. In 2009, the theatre celebrated its 60th anniversary.

A number of significant changes to the building have occurred over the past few years, with major extensions completed in 2002. An understage tunnel, which links two backstage dressing rooms and enables easier access from one side of the stage to the other, was completed in 2008. Bathroom facilities have also been installed backstage as part of this project, which was wholly self-funded.

The Old Mill Theatre is fortunate to have strong support from its local council, the City of South Perth. The city undertook major renovations to the exterior of the building in 2008 and the theatre is looking better now than ever before.

Trevor Dhu
P: 0409 373 374


Summer of the Seventeenth Doll Ray Lawler Old Mill Theatre Australian classic play performing arts FIFO stage



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