It is not very often that I get the opportunity to experience a brand-new musical during a world premiere. Let alone one that is completely Australian and written right here in Melbourne. Not only is the work completely original, but it also tackles one of Australia’s biggest issues and one that was under the microscope during the Covid pandemic – the Australia’s aged care system.
With book and lyrics by Tom Gleisner, music by Katie Weston, and direction by Dean Bryant, Bloom is set in an aged care facility and whilst it is billed as a comedy musical, Bloom is much more than just a good laugh. It tackles the fragility of our most vulnerable citizens, the financial strains that threaten the system’s very existence, and how the youth can learn a thing or two from the wisdom and experience our senior counterparts have to offer.
As mentioned, Bloom is set in an aged care facility. It is struggling to stay afloat and needs an extra set of hands. Mrs MacIntyre (Anne Edmonds) posts an ad offering up free accommodation to university students. In exchange, the students would offer a helping hand as carers. However, when Finn Bailey (Slone Sudiro) arrives at Pine Grove, Mrs McIntyre gets more than she bargained for. Inexperienced and lazy, Finn finds himself clashing with the qualified carers Ruby (Vidya Makan) and Gloria (Christina O’Neill), but also sparks an unlikely friendship with new resident Rose (Evelyn Krape).
In all honesty, I had no idea what to expect from this production. I have been familiar with Tom Gleisner from his work as the host of ‘Have You Been Paying Attention?’, so I knew that the comedy aspect of Bloom would be right up my alley. However, it was the serious undertones and heartwarming nature of this production that caught me off guard and in the best way possible.
Walking into Arts Centre Melbourne’s Playhouse Theatre, I noticed an empty hallway of what looked like a hospital was on the stage. It was simple, yet highly effective and set the scene of the production before the show had even begun. Once the show kicked into gear, the hallway wall lifted to reveal an incredibly detailed common room of the aged care facility. I must commend the set designer Dann Barber for what they created. Barber even uses forced perspective with the angles of the walls and roof leading towards the rear of the stage, providing the illusion that the area is much larger than it actually is. Not to mention the lighting design by Amelia Lever-Davidson and the mix of warm and cold tones shifted as the story shifted moods. The costuming from Charlotte Lane is also just as fantastic.
Anne Edmonds as Pine Grove’s manager Mrs MacIntyre is both hilarious and villainous. Edmonds’ dry delivery and body language had me laughing from the moment she entered the stage. This is no surprise though as Edmonds is one of Australia’s most popular stand-up comics. Having enjoyed her comedy work, I was excited to see how Edmonds would handle the stage in a musical aspect and it is safe to say that she absolutely nailed it. Her performance was the perfect portrayal of a power hungry, feared ‘leader’. Edmonds made me despise the character, but also had me hanging for her return.
The ensemble cast of Bloom are nothing short of incredible. Maria Mercedes in her dual role of the sticky-fingered scooter riding Betty and the jaded and bitter Chef was fantastic. It was fun watching Betty steal various objects off the other characters and speed away on her scooter. Eddie Muliaumaseali’i in his MTC debut plays four roles in Bloom, mainly as the heart-warming Sal and cleaner, Trev. And for a character that has next to zero dialogue, his portrayal of Sal pulled at my heartstrings. John O’May as Roland the retired theatre performer had me laughing every time he was on stage. There was something uniquely meta about O’May’s portrayal of an actor that was extremely funny. Jackie Rees as the art loving Lesley and Christina O’Neill as carer Gloria were equally as wonderful.
Frankie J. Holden as Doug was by far one of the standouts of the production. Doug is a man that always used his hands, building things, fixing things, and struggles with the idea that these abilities have been stripped away from him in his old age. And whilst he may not have the physicality that he used to, the heart and determination is still there, he just needs to find it again. His relationship with his fellow residents and the friendship he builds with newcomer Finn filled my heart.
Vidya Makan as Ruby perfectly portrays the sacrifices carers make in their own lives and potential careers to look after our most vulnerable. Ruby has her own dreams and aspirations but feels a deep responsibility to continue the path she is on to look after the residents at Pine Grove. It is not until the arrival of Finn and new resident Rose that she realises she could make a much bigger impact on the industry if she pursued her dreams.
Slone Sudiro as Finn is the classic, blissfully ignorant university student excited by the free accommodation. However, as he spends more time with the residents of Pine Grove, he realises that he has much to learn from each of them. Using his skills as a music university student, he connects with the residents in a way he never expected and learns more about them and himself in the process. Sudiro’s forms a unique bond with each of his fellow performers, but none more so than Evelyn Krape as Rose.
Krape’s portrayal of Rose perfectly captured the emotions of an older person that is left with no choice but to find themselves in an aged care facility. She is in denial and does not want to be there. It is this emotion that sees her connect with Sudio’s Finn. Both seemingly have no choice over why they are at Pine Grove and form an unlikely bond. Krape and Sudiro work so well together on stage, it is almost like they have been performing together for decades.
Tom Gleisner has really outdone himself with Bloom. I was captivated, I was laughing, and I even found myself in tears towards the end. Not only does this production serve up a brilliantly written comedic script, but it also highlights the importance of how Australia needs to care for our elderly. Our aged care system is far from perfect, and I think that Gleisner has highlighted some of the gaping holes in the industry. One such hole being the lack of funding to provide the level of care our most vulnerable deserve.
I absolutely adored Bloom and I am extremely grateful I had the opportunity to experience this completely original Australian production in its world premiere. Clever and inspiring, I hope that you will also take the opportunity to experience this funny and heartwarming production too.
Melbourne Theatre Company’s Bloom is performing now at Arts Centre Melbourne’s Playhouse Theatre until August 19. For tickets and more information, please visit:
Photography by Pia Johnson.