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Summer Wonderland, A Review by Jo Priestley

In the commercial lead-up to Christmas, save yourself money, heartache, and disappointment by first watching Wanganui Repertory Theatre’s “Summer Wonderland”. It’s written by award-winning Australian playwright Matthew Ryan, and trust me, the cost of your ticket will be recouped many times over by the things you won’t buy this Christmas.

Summer Wonderland begins with the parody of a snow angel in the shape of central character Foster lying in the street, arms outstretched, dreaming about faraway lands and places. It unwinds into the ridiculous Christmas pantomime we all enthusiastically take part in every year, of celebrating Christmas in our hot southern hemisphere climate with a fake Christmas tree, fake snow, fake snowmen, fake wreaths, and fairy lights.

The play is as much about personal relationships as the great Australia dream of prosperity and success, symbolised by the Christmas Lights competition and its prize of $100,000. Summer Wonderland feels as kiwi as it is aussie, and while the play is funny and loaded with irony, it is bitter- sweet, and has moments where it makes you suck in your breath and exhale with a wheezy “crikey, that’s just like our family”!

The lights competition celebrates all that’s commercial about Christmas, and of course, promotes a new electricity company. Irony is heaped upon irony as the judging is carried out from above, juxtaposed by Eugene’s rooftop cries of “have you been good this year” amid claims of cheating and saboutage.

The cast give good solid performances, and the cosy, intimate nature of the theatre, where actors on stage are roundly supported by friends and family, adds to the overall experience of being part of the community. The sets are fabulous and the lighting professional. The tea and biscuits at interval is a slightly odd experience as you feel transported back to your favourite Auntie’s house. But, hey, it all fits.

So as you feel yourself getting sucked into what we think Christmas means, and in effect the “show” we think we are judged by, remember Summer Wonderland and its life’s lessons. My own plans of putting a fake reindeer and Santa on my rooftop this year have been shelved in favour of just being with family and friends.

This show is a must-see, and it’s only on for the remainder of the week, so don’t delay possums!

Jo Priestley