some reviews – #1, summer heights high

The 2007 Australian comedy series Summer Heights High features its creator Chris Lilley as three characters: as an appalling private school girl spending a term at a public school; as the school’s acting head of drama, in a role that cleverly skewers Lilley’s own; and, most affectingly, as an illiterate FOB (fresh off the boat) Tongan boy in year eight.

What seems like a crass gimmick as I’m describing it to you (and is just that in something like Little Britain) turns out to have powerful dramatic implications. Lilley seems as convinced as I am that nothing in Australia is not about class (and its co-conspirators, race and gender.) By playing multiple roles, he cuts to the heart of all three issues. How are we shaped by class, by race and by gender? Well, what if you put exactly the same person into three entirely different situations?

That makes the series sound dreadfully po-faced, which it isn’t: Lilley effectively mines the considerable comedic veins from privileged bitch Ja’mie and effete wanker Mr G. And his little dog too. Both caricatures are keenly observed – Ja’mie’s habit of brushing her shiny hair away from her face with the back of her hand, for example, or Mr G’s elaborate self-delusion and barely repressed viciousness. I totally had him for a drama teacher.

All of which serves to underline the tragedy implicit in the situation of Jonah, the year eight boy whose unfocused rebellion and aggression test his teachers’ character and mettle – and in all cases but one, expose their lack of either. And while Ja’mie goes on and up, doubtless to study law at Sydney and marry the heir to a retail empire, and Mr G ends up back where he started, Jonah’s trajectory points relentlessly down. While Australian society keeps rationing its limited opportunities on the basis of anything other than merit, the show points out, nothing’s ever going to change.


Leave a Reply

Comments are closed.