Who doesn’t love a good Aussie accent? The U.S. premiere of Australian Made Entertainment’s Once We Lived Here, with book and lyrics by Dean Bryant, music by Mathew Frank and direction by Matthew Foster, is an Australian production through and through. From the “G’Daybill” to the glossary of phrases from down under, to the actors’ accents, to the lingo, you are truly transported to the outback throughout this moving production.
Once We Lived Here has a plot that everyone can recognize — a family is brought together by unfortunate circumstances for a few uncomfortable days of pretending to have anything in common at this stage in their lives and eventually, family secrets are spilled. But despite the somewhat stale general story-arc, Once We Lived Here contains twists and turns, and character development that engulfs the audience and makes them truly care about the stories unfolding on stage.
Since their father’s tragic death, the three siblings of Once We Lived Here (Amy, Lecy and Shaun) have splintered apart. Although each of them disproves of how the others are living their lives, they all return to the family sheep station, Emoh Ruo (“Our Home”) to check in on mother Claire, who is sick and doesn’t have much time left.
Lecy, played by Morgan Cowling, is a one-time nerd who has grown up, moved to the city and hasn’t looked back. Trying to branch into the world of television, she’s accused by her siblings of only caring about material things. But as the show develops, we see that Lecy isn’t as confident as she would like the world to think. To Cowling’s credit, Lecy’s change throughout the show gradually builds until you can’t help but be moved by her.
Shaun, played by Adam Rennie, is an instantly likeable musician who hasn’t had much success. Living on the road and playing gigs, he’s never stuck to anything for too long. Memories from his past haunt him, which is extremely evident during his performance of “The Shearing Shed” (Rennie’s voice is spectacular).
Amy, played by Kathleen Foster, is the oldest and has lived at Emoh Ruo with Claire since her father’s death, desperately trying to run the farm despite a drought that won't break and finances that continue to slip. Though written as the character that would seemingly get the most understanding from an audience, Foster's portrayal of Amy left me hesitant to root for her.
As if there weren’t already enough catching up going on, in typical motherly fashion, Claire (Renee Claire Bergeron) also invites Burke (Sean Cleary) to visit. Years earlier, Burke came to Emoh Ruo to help out and fell in love with Amy. But it’s been eight years since then and Amy insists that it’s too late to rekindle the old romance.
As the week progresses and the bush fires draw closer, the family is forced to confront things that they’ve avoided for far too long. Although it may sound cliché, audience members are sure to relate to at least one character and to slowly fall in love with the folks of Emoh Ruo.
The songs are catchy, the lyrics are not too predictable, and the performances of them are stellar. Standouts included “The Shearing Shed,” “As Far As the Eye Can See” and “We Like It That Way.” There are laughs along the way, though you’ll likely find yourself wiping your eyes as well.
The set, impressive for such a small space, was used well and the lighting helped seamlessly signal flashbacks.
At some point, most people question how they’re even related to their family members. But in the end, family is family. And as Claire reminds her kids, “there’s nothing perfect out there, just what works and doesn’t work.” Once We Live Here works.