Theatre review: The Weather and Your Health

by **

Dear Dad

The title of Bethany Simons’ play, that has been making a national tour of Australia for the past two months after being selected for the VCE drama playlist and following its nomination for the 2009 Green Room Awards, may not be the most arresting: I found myself struggling to articulate it in full, without embarrassing blunders, prior to watching the production. Not now. The title makes as much sense as the acting is stunning, and the staging, unforgettable.

Based on the story of Simons’ own grandmother, The Weather and Your Health is about growing up in a small country town in NSW called Gilgandra. The protagonist, portrayed by Simons herself, relates her childhood memories of the Second World War, her life of poverty, the courtship by, and marriage to a man (played by Daniel Mottau) who is later found wanting as a provider — both emotionally and materially.

While she exacts every effort to attract his attention, he sits engrossed with horse racing commentaries on his transistor radio as he studies his Form Guide, mute. We learn how well his wife has allowed him to live — slumped in front of the fireplace all day — despite doing little to help with the household bills.

But, Simons, bare-footed but outfitted in a cheerful cotton dress and bright lipstick, depicts a young woman focused on finding the silver lining in every cloud. Just as her childhood poverty has bred not grouses but determination her own children have plenty to eat, just as her less than privileged life as the daughter of a sanitary pan collector has retained in her not bitterness but recollections of her father’s love, so, while married life could be better, we come to see how it only takes a simple expression for this life-loving woman to be once again content.

Nevertheless, the playwright avoids the schmaltzy and the saccharine in her writing, in spite of the rose-hued glasses through which her character sees the world, in spite of the central figure’s sweet (if quirky) characterisation. Simons does not wallow in nostalgic feelings for the father’s generosity when he surprises his daughter with the dress she loves, and she deftly ends the play when the frosty husband gives the first sign of softening. This does not detract from the emotional impact of her work, nonetheless: it did not keep me from becoming tearful in both places.

Directed by David Wicks, this honest account by an honest woman has been allowed to flourish honestly. We identify with the yearning, the jealousy, the ‘dog in a manger’ attitude inherent in probably every woman, and we recognise a young lady’s obsession with beauty and with beauty routines.

Simons shines in her role, as she does in her writing. Her caricatural representations of the four country-town girlfriends are especially impressive, while Mottau (although mostly wordless) delivers his part handsomely — not least in the final scene — but more memorably when he is movie-watching.

One can almost hear Simons’ nanna recount her story as this one-act piece unfolds over under an hour. You appreciate Simons’ choice in portraying her as a young woman in her prime, rather than as a mother or grandmother she is today. For, in her mind, she shall forever be the girl from Gilgandra, talking about, yes, The Weather and Your Health.