Marmite: you either love it or you hate it. or so the strap line goes. But this dictum doesnt apply to The Vegemite Tales, because theres nothing to dislike. Instead, it’s a hysterical send-up about Australian back-packers and will leave you wanting to throw your arms around the cast.
Telling the tale of a group of Aussies and a token Italian, shacked up in an Acton flat share, it feeds you the kind of bumbling cultural stereotypes you’d get if you crossed The Simpsons with Ramsey Street’s regulars and judging by the continuous laughter from the Antipodean contingent packing out the Riverside Studios on the night I went to see the VTs, this is one heckuva well observed piece of theatre about what it’s like evading real life north of the equator.
Under the slick direction of Bill Buckhurst, the cast’s comic timing is preternaturally perfect and their bickering and bust ups capture what so many itinerants in London must experience; the dodgy flats, the trials of opening a bank account and not to mention the piss-poor English weather
The Vegemite Tales is Melanie Tait’s first play and the first half of the production skips along, merrily introducing us to each of the idlers and their love lives. But the action really centres around an indomitable trio of pranksters; Sam,(Andrew Rob) the narrator and daddy of the flat who has been in the UK for seven years; Dan (Ben Steel of Home and Away fame) the ladies man and the perennially unemployed Eddie, played by Tom Sangster.
All the male characters are – in true Aussie style – as well formed as their biceps are bulging, but the female characters could quite happily all be bunched under the rubric of “whinging Shelia”; Maddie the virgin, Gemma the stressed artist and Jane the frustrated actress and even the whacko Sloane, Portia, played by an exuberant Sarah Hadland, all reek of the kind of dramatisation youd find in a high school production but somehow this isnt important. Neither is the fact that Andy Leonard, who plays the Italian Stallion Gio, hasn’t got to grips with the I-tie accent and ends up sounding more like Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat than a Neapolitan native.
But the light hearted first half is almost eradicated by the melodrama at the start of the second half, probably triggered by the playwright’s misguided belief the script needed to included some weighty philosophising about the traveller phenomenon to give it real merit however things quickly get back on track to provide the audience with what it really wants – more puerile wisecracks and some great comic skits.
As well as being side splittingly funny The Vegemite Tales is a clever production that intersperses video footage into the narrative and gives each character their Marmite Moment: the chance to say what they love and hate about living in London. It won’t change any of your preconceptions about Australians but then if it overturned stereotypes it would have nothing to rest its laurels on.