‘The Torrents’ is an extremely funny play written in 1955 by Sydney born dramatist, playwright and screenwriter, Oriel Gray; that year, ‘The Torrents’ was a joint winner with ‘Summer of the Seventeenth Doll’ in the Playwrights’ Advisory Board Competition. Despite winning such a prestigious award the play with its themes of ‘feminism and the saving of the environment’, it did not have popular appeal in that very conservative, post war era. Sadly, it became a bit of a flop and was not produced again for 40 years and even then, the public support was disappointing.
In her youth, Oriel Gray was a member of the Communist Party and then in later life, this left-wing lady still had plenty of daring and experimental ideas; her main cause became Aboriginals rights.
In 1942, at the age of 22, Gray was appointed as the first paid Australian playwright-in-residence. During the 1950s, she was commissioned to write a weekly segment for radio. As her talent was recognised and appreciated, Gray went on to develop children’s education programmes for the ABC.
This little powerhouse died from a heart attack, aged 83. This show’s season finishes exactly sixteen years after her death in Heidelberg, Victoria. Her memoirs were written in 1985 and called the ‘Memoirs of a Scarlet Woman’, they are published by Penguin.
This magnificent creation is a Black Swan and Sydney Theatre Company co-production. This fast paced 100-minute (no interval) play for adults can be seen nightly at 7.30 in the Heath Ledger Theatre within the State Theatre Centre in Northbridge. The short season, which is sure to be a sell-out, runs until Saturday 29th June, please check times for special events and matinées. Captioning, Audio Descript and Tactile Tour on Saturday 29th June at 2.00
The scene: It’s the 1890s in Koolgalla in the Goldfields (based on Kalgoorlie).
The set: Set designer, Renée Mulder has given us a stunning vista. The proscenium arch acts the diagonal across a busy local newspaper office. The audience face into the far corner, where a wooden staircase goes up from the group of journalists’ desks and old typewriters to the boss’s smart office. This upstairs office has a cutaway wall revealing a large desk with a banker’s green lamp. On the wall are framed large gold nuggets.
At ground level the five-metre-high, dusk pink walls have waist high wood panelling. There are three cathedral-like, tall narrow arched windows typical of the Victorian era. In the wings at each side of the stage are mountains of newspaper bundles. A bentwood hatstand was next to the office’s front door. A magnificent set.
Lighting designer Lucy Birkinshaw has given the whole effect a warm glow, with good use of the wonderful windows. Even though the sky outside the windows was black drapes – a blue sky would have ruined the atmosphere – the day light slowly varied throughout each scene. Top class.
The Stage Manager, Hugo Aguilar López was assisted by Anastasia Julien-Martial.
The sound design was by Joe Paradise Lui and operated by Tim Collins. The play opened with an unusual but highly atmospheric, vibrant piece of music by Joe Lui; it embraced the basic instrumentation of the ‘wild west’, the era and even the zany humour to follow, in its upbeat complex orchestration. The instruments used were hard to define, but I suspect may have included a steel guitar, a wooden xylophone (although the word ‘xylo’ already means wood), piano and tuba? These compositions, used between scenes, should be entered for a national country music award. Possibly Joe’s best composition yet and with a unique orchestration. Loved it.
In her stand-up comic genre, Celia Pacquola came in front of the curtain and greeted the audience before telling us a bit of the history behind the author and the play. This novel idea was warmly welcomed. Celia then proved her highly developed acting talents.
It is morning in the busy mining town’s newspaper office. The blowhard head printer, Christy (Geoff Kelso) is telling the gullible 15 yrs. old office boy, Bernie (Rob Johnson) how he had fought in every war since the beginning of history, been everywhere and done everything. The office manager and head reporter, an OCD Scotsman, Jock McDonald (Sam Longley) interrupts Christy and Bernie reminding them that today is when their ‘new star reporter, a wonderful man’ called J.G. Milford is arriving by train. Milford was selected specially by the newspaper’s owner, a hard and stubborn man from Dublin, Rufus Torrent (Tony Cogin).
Into the office comes an intelligent local engineer, Kingsley (Luke Carroll) who has an ingenious plan for developing the area. He is accompanied by the beautifully attired Gwynne (Emily Rose Brennan) the fiancée of Ben Torrent (Gareth Davies), the waster son of Rufus.
An hour later the new reporter arrives at the office. However, the wonder man is a woman! Jenny Milford (Celia Pacquola) is shrewd and knowledgeable – but still a woman. A female that the paper’s main investor, John Manson (Steve Rodgers) finds acceptable.
The Director Clare Watson was joined by Emily McLean as assistant director. They have taken each character in the play, dissected and studied the personalities, the with the aid of the Dramaturg, Virginia Gay, her consultant Dr Merrilee Moss and the voice / dialect coach Luzita Fereday, a strong cast of very recognisable and distinct characters has been formed. The production team generously took on an honour’s placement student, Grace Macpherson as an intern.
The whole cast was charged up, performing with plenty of movement and interaction. The accents were perfect, Tony’s Irish accent was recognisably Dublin and Sam’s soft Scottish intonations were thankfully Edinburgh and not the often-overacted Glaswegian drawl.
Phillip Cox’s wigs were understated and hard to spot, well done.
Finally, after providing a superb set, Renée Mulder proved her talents as a first-class Costume Designer. With the skills of costume makers Jennifer Edwards and Nicole Marrington, the styles showed a superb choice of materials, matching shades of colour and many small extras, such as the ten centimetre brown rim around the foot of the dresses and the red dusty shoes which is so true of the clothing in mining towns. Great eye for detail.
The performances were outstanding, from the nervous teenager to the roaring investor, from the loving Gwynne to the lamb amongst the misogynists, brilliant. The serious undertones were relieved by plenty of comic script and action.
The deserving cast received a couple of curtain calls. Every member of the audience was smiling and chatting about the performance as they left. A special production with few seats left, get in quick.