When Australian Melanie Tait was 21 and living in London in a share house she had ambitions to start up a theatre company to produce musicals. But how to finance it? Her solution – to write a play based on her own experiences of living with other expats in a big city away from home, grumbling about the weather and working as a waitress – may not be the kind of advice handed out by financial consultants. To Tait’s surprise The Vegemite Tales became an overnight sellout. It was, Tait says, “the right thing at the right time”.
In writing The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race, Tait was inspired once again by her own experiences. On returning to her home town of Robertson in NSW she decided to compete in the annual potato race and discovered that the winner of the men’s race received $1,000 whereas the winner of the women’s race won a mere $200. What interested Tait was the acceptance of the notion that men should have the greater reward as if it were an inevitable consequence of the natural order. She observed further it was generally accepted that women did “most of the work” in the organisational life of a country town while men “did the fun things”.
The country town of the play is already in a state of flux when the central character GP Penny returns to her childhood home. Once a rural farming village, some old style potato farms have been converted to plush weekenders for the wealthy, and new imports from Sydney like Penny bring new values and “radical” lifestyles. Penny’s attempt to challenge the natural order by wanting to fundraise for an equal prize brings already existing tensions to a head. Surprisingly, perhaps, but again not so, as the Appleton Show is run by a ladies’ committee the cast are all women across differing generations.
Each of the women go on their own journey and while all do not change in their opposition to Penny’s plan each comes to a realisation. Laughingly, Tait comments that a friend of hers who attended the play commented that the characters seemed “like five different versions” of her. While the play, as Tait says, “stealthily tells the story of the pay gap”, it is also a funny and delightful story of a community confronted with change, and of individuals trying to find where they fit in.
Tait is looking forward to rehearsals and seeing the fabulous cast – Valerie Bader, Merridy Eastman, Sapidah Kian, Amber McMahon and Sharon Millerchip – in performance.
The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race will be showing at the Lennox Theatre, Riverside Theatre from May 5-8, 2021.