Ray Lawler’s 1955 play Summer of the Seventeenth Dollis often considered rather old fashioned: a naturalistic melodrama set in a single room over a few days during which each character speaks their mind or spars with their fellows. Black Swan’s production however brings out the more fantastic elements of the piece.

The drama follows Roo and Barney, who come to Melbourne during the break in cane-cutting work. During the “lay off,” they spend their time with two women – Olive, and this year Pearl – with whom the men live at a run-down Carlton boarding house managed by Olive’s mother, Emma. This year, though, it all comes unstuck.

Kelton Pell, Amy Mathews and Jacob Allan in Black Swan State Theatre Company’s  Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. Photo © Philip Gostelow

Director Adam Mitchell retains this hothouse atmosphere, and most of the piece is played fairly straight. Characters engage in intimate discussions whilst we peer at them as through an invisible fourth wall.

The design however establishes a more dreamy feel. Pearl notes several time how dusty and tatty the room and its furnishings are, but Bruce McKinven’s set consists of a cube cutaway at three...