Midsumma: Third Reich Mommie

We’re at the Abbotsfod Convent. It’s hot, it’s sticky and the thunder outside is rumbling in perfect time with the drama on stage. All in all, Third Reich Mommie couldn’t have asked for a better setting for its opening performance of this sometimes shocking, slightly unsettling and downright silly foray into the world of trash theatre.

Third Reich Mommie. Photo by Phoebe Taylor
Photo by Phoebe Taylor

I don’t like trash theatre. There, I said it, it’s all out in the open like an exposed brain slapped into the waiting hand of an unsuspecting victim. It’s tacky, far too over the top and deliberately pushes all the wrong buttons. The deliberate over-acting the genre demands is criminal and it can fall so far down its pit of soap opera ridiculousness that the audience is left lost and confused, staring over the rim while the actors roll around in peals of self-indulgent laughter at the bottom of the well.

But taking my less then warm views of trash theatre into account why, within 10 minutes of Third Reich Mommie, a textbook example if I’ve ever seen one, was I wearing such a huge grin on my face?

It may not be the most refined, easy to follow or perfectly crafted piece of theatre, but there is no denying that it is a serious bit of fun. And sometimes we just need some ridiculous, trashy fun.

Actors Christopher Bryant and Trelawney Edgar, as mother and daughter Bridgette Van Kamp and Cassidy, are the powerhouse forces on stage. They set the cracking and ridiculous pace that rips the audience along for a visceral, spit-roasting, brain-splattering, offal-eating ride

However, forced by the pace of the text and demands of the characters to maintain the same volume, tone and energy for much of the performance, they become a little tiresome and are at risk of staying that way for the whole show. (And both wouldn’t suffer to pay attention to their diction because, at times, the venues acoustics make it difficult to hear or discern what’s being said.)

But they are saved by Jock, who is brilliantly and adorably portrayed by Nathan Burmeister. Jock is a confused boy Cassidy is pursuing, with an almost relentless sexual drive, and you can’t help but root for the poor kid as he gets pulled into the tangled web of lies, fantasy, drama and mild brainwashing that is the Van Kamp household.

Burmeister is the force that keeps this spiraling, burning madhouse of a piece of theatre together. His focus and stage presence keeps the audience with him through everything, even during the occasionally overdrawn and clunky changes of set.

Rounding out the cast is Ashleigh Goodison as Ada Weiss, who maintains a subtle presence for much of the show and her character can feel a little superfluous but she’s well worth the slow start. Goodison comes screaming into the final moments of the play and is essential to the rollicking climax that leads to a satisfying and even slightly touching conclusion.

And all this is achieved through constant references to Germany, the Third Reich and just how wildly unhinged these characters are.

Finally, it’s impossible not to talk about unusual feel of the space in which the actors perform this feat of theatrical debauchery. At first glance, the Rosina Auditorium looks like a pretty standard, end on, square arch stage. But there are no blinds on the windows, no sound system or lighting rig. So when the show starts, it’s impossible not to be intensely aware of the fact that it’s still light outside – it just doesn’t feel like you’re in a theatre.

It’s a testament to the skill of director Daniel Lammin that he has tamed the space and the show. The limited lighting is used to great effect and really who cares if the audience has to suspend their disbelief a little more then usual. It’s well worth it.

Third Reich Mommie is exactly the piece of glorious unhinged codswallop it promises to be and is well worth a look this Midsumma festival.

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

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