The Bush is an affectionate, informative and funny solo show about the ‘Battlers of Kelly’s Bush’, a small group of Australian housewives in the 1970s whose fight to save a patch of bush ground in their Sydney suburb inspired much of the modern ecology movement, including ‘green bans’ where workers refused to work on environmentally unfriendly projects, and the founding of the German Green Party.
Alice Mary Cooper plays multiple characters in a way that’s part drama, part storytelling, and part fourth-wall breaking stand-up. Her two main characters are Margaret, a timid housewife who becomes a tree hugger, and Betty, a journalist, who has inexhaustible ideas for drumming up support.
The social history is carefully detailed. They’re acutely aware that protest is seen as a subversive, left-wing thing done by communists and ‘hairy lesbians’, and for them to be associated with trade unionists is social suicide. The Battlers are dependant on their communities. Their world is about hostess trollies, tennis clubs, and coffee mornings.
The personal social history is set in the context of the political. In 1970, when they started their campaign, no one thought much about heritage or conservation. The idea that things and places had cultural value inside and outside of the country they were in was very new. At first developers could threaten the women with bad press, by the end the women could threaten the developers.
This could have made a dull, but worthy, drama. But Cooper has made it sweetly nostalgic and heroically farcical. There’s one-liners, a brilliant sight gag with some vintage Tupperware, a running gag about Pavlova, a transformation into the Virgin Mary, a Jazzercise council meeting, and a disco protest.
It takes a little while to warm up in the clinical surroundings of Summerhall’s Demonstration Room, but once it hits its stride it’s always engaging, and frequently show-stopping.