A hefty chunk of latest Australian playwriting can hint its narrative, thematic and structural lineage again to Summer time of the Seventeenth Doll. Ray Lawler’s play about imploding private and nationwide concepts of mateship, loyalty and household has been carried out greater than 1,000 instances. It’s commonly an assigned literary textual content in Australian excessive colleges and universities, and it paved the best way for a storytelling identification in its picture: Australian naturalism, the mundane tragedies of life, the private and the home writ epic. And it began when the Doll received the celebrated Playwrights’ Advisory Board Competitors prize in 1955.
However it didn’t win alone. Lawler’s play really tied with one other one: The Torrents by Oriel Grey. The Doll is a nationwide basic; The Torrents had, till this 12 months, solely been carried out professionally as soon as: in Adelaide in 1996. We are able to guess in any respect the explanations the trade selected to give attention to the Doll and ignore The Torrents. Grey was a girl author, to start with, a working mom in a conservative period and a one-time member of the Communist celebration. She wrote about racism in nation Australia, feminism and environmental considerations – all issues the nation was collectively attempting to disregard. Grey left the theatre for tv writing ultimately. Recreation, set and match to the male-dominated stage canon.
That’s why it’s bittersweet and genuinely transferring to see Oriel Grey entrance and centre with director Clare Watson’s long-anticipated staging of The Torrents, a co-production by Sydney Theatre Firm and Black Swan State Theatre Firm. A neon signal spelling out her identify hung over the pre-show curtains and, because the lights went down, comedian and actor Celia Pacquola, who stars within the play, appeared in her comic persona to elucidate the work’s historical past and unfairly denied legacy. It’s a sensible and welcoming strategy to usher a decades-old play into the present second (take a first-time theatregoer; they’ll really feel taken care of).
The play is ready within the fictional city of Koolgalla within the 1890s, newly wealthy from gold but in addition shortly working out of it. The arrival of the brand new rent on the native newspaper workplace, JG Milford, is extremely anticipated by the workers – till she seems. They’d no concept that “J” stands for Jenny (Pacquola). There’s by no means been a girl within the newsroom earlier than and a few of them would favor to maintain it that means.
Rufus Torrent (Tony Cogin), who owns the paper, is livid; his son Ben (Gareth Davies), who stands to inherit it, is delighted. The remainder of the workers – intransigent Jock McDonald (Sam Longley), blustery Christy (Geoff Kelso) and adolescent trainee Bernie (Rob Johnson) develop to understand Jenny in time. She’s an emotionally mature straight-shooter, and whereas the boys embarrass themselves with their small-mindedness, she points a name to arms to make use of the press as a battleground not only for the reality however as a spot to assist form a greater future.
That future would possibly start with Kingsley (Luke Carroll), who has a plan to develop irrigation and agriculture within the space. All he needs is his scheme introduced within the paper – and possibly the love of Gwynne (Emily Rose Brennan) – however, with large shot John Manson (Steve Rodgers) threatening to tug his funding within the paper if the surroundings will get any column inches over his gold, it’s a tough slog.
Grey was a longtime leftist and The Torrents, a genuinely humorous office comedy, is anchored by her politics: Jenny is a progressive who pushes others to consider group and inclusion slightly than their very own wealth, to seek out their passions and stay their beliefs. The play itself is neatly structured with twin storylines that satisfyingly converge to boost the stakes. It’s witty and sharp, and but nonetheless hopeful.
Watson directs The Torrents with a way of generosity. The present feels propelled by the enjoyment of lastly giving Grey her due. In a intelligent, largely profitable gamble, Grey’s gags are re-mapped on to the beats and timing of latest comedy. There’s a wholesome dose of bodily enterprise and broad line reads from the supporting forged that largely works (watching somebody throw a hat or catch a cane hasn’t been this pleasurable in years). It’s a pleasure to look at the finely tuned chaos play out on Renée Mulder’s realist old-school newsroom set, anchored by bundled newspapers and excessive home windows, via which clear nation daylight appealingly slates, because of lighting by Lucy Birkinshaw.
In the meantime, Jenny is ready other than the slapstick. She exists above it, all calm silence and droll seems; a contained, mesmerising storm. There’s a compassion to Pacquola’s efficiency that softens the play and permits it to seek out moments of poignancy.
The ensemble is dotted with sturdy performances in help, notably from Longley and Cogin, although some actors are extra snug with the tenor of Grey’s language than others. Nonetheless, the rising tide of the manufacturing, stored rolling by Watson, lifts all boats, buoyed by Joe Paradise Lui’s nation/people compositions. It’s persistently considerate, at all times pleasurable.
This manufacturing of The Torrents provides us again a play we should always by no means have misplaced within the first place, nudging it to its rightful place alongside the Doll as a triumph of Australian theatre from our adolescence. However with that nudge comes a observe of melancholy. What might this play have executed for audiences within the 60 years since? It suggests an alternate timeline of Australian playwriting: one wherein ladies’s tales, progressive tales and tales about pushing the nation ahead pretty exist equally alongside battling household performs and tales about conflicted males.
By shutting the door on an award-winning playwright all these years in the past, we shut the door on so many others who might have come after her. Watching The Torrents in 2019, it feels crucial that we seize these caught doorways and yank them open as arduous as we will. The extra modifications we make now, the extra modifications will come – modifications that we, not to mention Oriel Grey, might by no means have dreamed up on our personal.
• Sydney Theatre Firm and Black Swan State Theatre Firm’s manufacturing of The Torrents by Oriel Grey is displaying on the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera Home till 24 August