Belvoir St Theatre, January 14


Anna McMahon. Top: Jade Lomas-Ronan, Anna McMahon, Roxanne McDonald and Perry Mooney. Photos: Stephen Wilson Barker.

There was a play to be mined from Anita Heiss’s novel Tiddas, but this is not it. It’s Heiss’s first play, and in turning her 350-page book into a 90-minute play, she makes the novice’s mistake of failing to free herself from the original structure.

Tiddas (“sisters”) tells of the intersecting lives of five Mudgee women who have moved to Brisbane, share a book club and are turning 40. There’s Aboriginal Izzy, a semi-celebrity ambitious for her own TV show (and unexpectedly pregnant), white Veronica, who’s devoted her life to her sons, only to have her husband leave her, Aboriginal Xanthe who’d give anything for a baby, white Nadine, a successful novelist whose lover is a bottle, and Aboriginal Ellen, who uses tradies for more than odd jobs.

In the novel, the round-robin book clubs expertly delineate these characters and their stories, which are primarily about partners and children rather than careers. We learn of certain bilateral tensions and bonds, and we come to like all five, whether for their sharp tongues or soft natures.

Roxanne McDonald. Photos: Stephen Wilson Barker,

On stage, though, these multiple iterations of the club result in a stream of fleeting scenes, in which often neither character nor plot progresses. In fact the actors spend inordinate time trooping on and trooping off again , like some bungled military exercise. Directors Nadine McDonald-Dowd and Roxanne McDonald can share some of the blame for not finding more fluid solutions, but ultimately Heiss may have been better writing radically scenes, and building more tension within them. As it is, the flashpoints seem contrived, not helped by some implausible acting.

McDonald, however, excels has Xanthe’s grandma and Izzy’s mum, acting with an understatement otherwise largely missing. Perry Moony would be a fine Ellen if she projected more. Lara Croydon misses some of Izzy’s flair, Jade Lomas-Ronan works too hard at Xanthe, and Anna McMahon overacts whenever Veronica becomes temperamental. Sean Dow, meanwhile, can’t quite meet the challenge of playing five different men.

The cause wasn’t advanced by Louise Brehmer, who was to have played Nadine, contracting Covid, and McDonald-Dowd having to cover, script in hand. The saving graces are Heiss’s wit (Ellen, for instance, is “reno-dating”), Zoe Rouse’s book-lined set, and a strong sense of the camaraderie the women the share as tiddas.

Until January 28.