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Once We Lived Here

From what seems an unlikely premise for a musical, collaborators Mathew Frank and Dean Bryant have crafted a complex and engrossing piece of theatre, peppered with themes of family identity and selective memory. Set on a sheep station in the Australian outback, a family gathers to decide the fate of its childhood home in the wake of the mother’s terminal illness. Dean Bryant’s book struggles to find its emotional core at first but gradually pulls us into the story, while throwing enough narrative curve balls to keep the audience on their toes.

This is matched by an equally thoughtful score by Mathew Frank, which carries echoes of Sondheim, and a strong Act II opener that recalibrates the mood and allows the rest of the story to unfold satisfactorily.

A committed cast bring the Macpherson family to life, led by Simone Craddock as ailing matriarch Claire. Belinda Wollaston provides much of the comedy as the pert, preening Lecy, the prodigal daughter of sorts but central to the heart of this story is the complicated relationship between Melle Stewart’s practical homesteader Amy and migrant labourer Burke, played with self-effacing charm by Shaun Rennie.

Paul Vale