Written in 1979, Travelling North could be described as a reflection through the eyes of the writer, David Williamson, of the characters and societal morals of the late 1970’s.
Directed by Andrew Upton, Travelling North focuses on the two main characters, Frank (Bryan Brown), an older Australian man who struggles to cast off the associated male stereotype and Frances (Alison Whyte) who seems to be on a journey of self-discovery that leads her further and further away from her demanding daughters.
The sparse, simple stage leaves room for the characters to shine. The strong bond between Frances and Frank sees them leaving chilly Melbourne and her daughters, who feel as though she is abandoning them for her own selfish motives, and heading to far north Queensland.
Here, we see tensions between the couple spill over, as Frances feels torn between her love of Frank and the traditional stereotypes of a mother during that period, but we also see the rapid decline of Frank’s health.
Frank and Frances’ experiences in Queensland also introduce us to colourful and cleverly crafted characters. These include the local doctor, Saul (Russell Kiefel) whose blunt diagnoses and wry sarcasm provide many a funny moment, and the quintessential 1970’s stereotype neighbour Freddy (Andrew Tighe), who shows up to Frank’s place at inopportune moments, toolbox in hand and a matter-of-fact attitude to match.
Back in Melbourne, Frances’ daughters Helen and Sophie, (Harriet Dyer and Sara West) sulk, plot and scheme while Frank’s daughter Joan, (Emily Russell) is their opposite – gentle and accepting of her father’s new life. The daughters are appalled and disbelieving that their mother has taken up with a man (who wants to believe that their parents have sexual and romantic lives?) and, although it’s the 1970’s (Vietnam is a background shadow) they are also mortified that the two aren’t going to marry. As a result, Frances’ infrequent and often short visits are fraught with tension and the guilt they heap on her is palpable.
Travelling North could definitely be described as a slice of on-stage Australiana that explores the stereotypes and traditional gender roles of the time, as well as themes that remain relevant today. Although there is not a lot of action, the strong cast and tight script flows fluidly and takes the audience into the hearts of characters we can all identify with and whose bittersweet sentimentality lingers with you long after the lights have come back on.
Travelling North is playing at the Sydney Theatre Company until March 22.