A new Australian musical, Bloom hits the right notes. The delivery of effective aged care remains a contentious issue that has brought great consternation to many, before, during and after the COVID-19 lockdowns. Writer Tom Gleisner has taken that and run with it to create a humour-filled portrait of a facility for the third generation in desperate need of greater attention.
They say a fish rots from the head down and so it is at Pine Grove. Mrs MacIntyre (Anne Edmonds) has a lot to answer for. She is the person in charge and a penny pincher if ever there was one. Whatever she can do to save money she does … to the detriment of the residents. Excursions, activities and more are all too regularly cancelled and both residents and staff are frustrated by the cutbacks.
Into the place walks a strongly opinionated, ageing former French and music teacher, Rose (Evelyn Krape). She resiles at the idea of having her independence taken away. At the same time, university student and budding pianist Finn (Slone Sudiro) responds to a call for free board in exchange for lending a hand as a carer. Lazy, his heart doesn’t seem to be in it and he is regularly late for work.
That, and the fact that he has no experience, puts him at odds with 23-year-old Ruby (Vidya Makan), who has her own frustrations and aspirations. Her immediate boss, Gloria (Christina O’Neill), who started at Pine Grove on a six-month contract and is still there eight years later, has a more sympathetic approach. Regardless, both she and Ruby want more done for the residents.
Like the manager, the chef (Maria Mercedes) adopts a “not to be messed with” approach. Mercedes doubles as kleptomaniac Betty, a resident who gets around – at speed – on a motorised scooter. Lesley (Jackie Rees) is a painter specialising in nudes. She has more than a passing interest in 82-year-old Doug (Frankie J. Holden), who is timid about making a move on her.
An ex-tradie, Doug has little time for pompous Roland (John O’May), who likes sprouting the Queen’s English and fancies himself as an actor of renown. Then there is Sal (Eddie Muliaumaseali’i), who is perpetually doped up and doesn’t speak … until something surprising happens. Muliaumaseali’i is the most versatile of the cast. He also plays handyman Trev, along with an aged care home inspector and a TV reporter.
There is much to enjoy about Bloom. With so much heart, it is easy to warm to. Tom Gleisner has readily tapped into audience sensibilities. He has crafted strong and affecting characters, generating joy, humour and pathos. Katie Weston’s accompanying music is ear pleasing. It is well realised by an accomplished five-piece band (who we get to see, albeit briefly, in the second act) under the musical direction of Zara Stanton.
Anne Edmonds’ facial expressions and dogmatism as Pine Grove’s head are priceless. So, too, Maria Mercedes’ bull at a gate approach as chef, dangerous cleaver in hand … while she realises Betty with a twinkle in her eyes. Evelyn Krape milks Rose’s feistiness and makes her a beloved figure. Slone Sudiro transitions his character well from self-centred to responsible. Vidya Makan has a superb singing voice and displays grit as Ruby.
Christina O’Neill nicely channels the balancing act that supervisor Gloria is forever navigating. Frankie J. Holden has plenty of fun with his role as a straight shooter, not au fait with the digital age, who has seen better days. John O’May ensures he makes the most of a series of breakout moments as the showy Roland. Jackie Rees isn’t backward in coming forward as a liberal minded artist. I greatly admire Eddie Muliaumaseali’i for the differentiation he is able to assert in each of the characters he assumes.
Dean Bryant has done a great job directing Bloom, ensuring each cast member is given space to maximise their impact. Dann Barber’s set design is mighty impressive. The aged care complex and outdoor area created has complexity, depth and layers to it. Ensuring the actors navigate that without mishap has been left to choreographer Andrew Hallsworth and he has worked wonders. On opening night, there wasn’t a false step.
Also, listen out for a couple of familiar voice cameos from 3AW Nights’ host Denis Walter and Nine newsreader Peter Hitchener. 105 minutes without interval, Bloom is entertaining and engaging throughout. It is on at Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne until 19th August, 2023.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- A Little Night Music – theatre review
- Minnie & Liraz (MTC) – theatre review
- Single Ladies (Red Stitch Theatre) – theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.