It sometime during World War One and under leadership of the deceptively stern Mrs Eliza Cameron (Julia Johnson), the TTS, aka Train Tea Society contributes to the war effort by sending care packages of socks and soaps to Australian troops serving overseas. More notably, for it from this that it has gained its name, when troop trains transit through Ipswich, its members are there to serve the returned men tea. Excitable Nellie (Samantha Bull) and her outspoken twin sister Nora (Aimee Duroux) love being able to make contribution in this manner, however, when their cousin Margaret (Olivia Hall-Smith) arrives by train from Toowoomba, she shows scepticism about the society’s value. Meanwhile, Millicent (Madison Kennedy-Tucker) longs to be a member and is determined towards revenge after her apparent application decline.
As the plot unfolds audiences are shown some interesting perspectives as to philanthropic value, especially through Margaret’s determination to become an axillary nurse to help troops like her brother in Belgium. But, despite these sometimes weighting considerations, “The Train Tea Society” is also filled with humour, most notably through Samantha Bull’s Nellie. Clearly relishing the role, she brings the wacky but loveable character to life down to the finest of facial expressions and her interactions with Aimee Duroux, and also Wendy Spencer as fellow society member Edith, are wonderfully engaging in their irreverence.
Of note too is the on-stage interaction between Madison Kennedy-Tucker and Casey McCollow as almost frienemies Millicent and Bertha, especially when the usually put-upon Bertha shows that she does have it in her to speak her mind and put Millicent in her place. And certainly worth a mention is Olivia Hall-Smith as Margaret, delivering dialogue with such unwavering conviction as to have audiences believe that when she departs by train determined to make a difference, she really will.
Everything is authentic about the experience of “The Train Tea Society”. Jaymee Richard’s staging is era-evocative, seeing ladies sipping tea from delicately-patterned china, atop lace-clothed tables, making the best of wartime rations. And period costumes are perfect in showcase of ladies of a certain stature, yet appropriately devoid of opulence in representation of wartime wear. The biggest and most memorable prop, however, is the live steam train that appears on the platform right on cue to deliver and later whisk Margaret away from her Ipswich family.
Staging a show on a railway platform is not only an ambitious undertaking, but one that epitomises Anywhere Festival’s mission is to reconnect audiences and communities with theatre performance… anywhere. And the provided snapshot of local history based on the lives of real women ( “The Train Tea Society” is based on a real society of Ipswich women from the First World War), realised by an all-female cast and creative team is fascinating.
Flowers Theatre Company clearly know how to bring historical stories to interesting light; this was shown in last year’s hugely successful “The Mayne Effect” and “The Train Tea Society” cements that the company is certainly one to follow in the future. Two successive years of Anywhere Festival shows sold out ahead of their seasons, speaks volumes as how unique and special their shows are.
This review is based on the reviewer’s experience of the performance on May 7.