Jeremy Sims and his Pork Chop Productions deserve every support and last dollar they can get. This independent, unfunded company remarkably manages to attract star casts and collaborations which see them performing at Sydney Opera House and around Australia.

Now they are back with Jackie Weaver in another Reg Cribb play, celebrating the optimism and humanism of an old Australia which, we are told, is threatened today by corporate greed and conservatism. But Pork Chop’s signature is to deliver this sad truth with entertaining discursions and ensemble inventiveness.

Ruby’s Last Dollar, about a Tivoli ing?e slipping from stardom to pokie addiction, has in fact all the qualities and tedium of a Tivoli show. It’s wicked and witty, rambling and tangential, full of pathos and much in need of cuts.

As Ruby Constance ponders using her last dollar on her faithless pokie, Dancing Lady, she conjures up younger days when her wide-eyed innocence and shapely figure drew men and easy applause. Australia too seemed then to have had the same na? warmth and optimism.

Ruby’s (and our) voyage takes her through double acts with an Aboriginal song man and then a fake Russian doing a spider act, from stardom to whoredom, two-up wins in Redfern and a lost daughter, and finally years chasing dreams with the one-armed bandit.

The mindless addiction to pokies, says Cribb, is the scourge of Sydney’s once amiable pubs and music scene and a mechanistic destroyer of lives. But Sims directs that message with a good eye for the comedy in poor old Ruby and her fellow battlers on the pokies.

Jackie Weaver is enchanting and charismatic as the aging Ruby but -“ as with the staging generally -“ real emotional moments are often lost in the drive to explain it out front and be entertaining at all costs.

This two-dimensional direction of the play, in style and stage use, robs it of depth and impact. Cribb, though, and the full cast get high praise for conjuring up a collection of Australian characters, wit and attitudes which, like a good Tim Winton novel, make us think on our past and present.
He has drafted a fine play -“ but a draft it still is.

Ruby’s Last Dollar is at the Sydney Opera House until 23 July.

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