ReviewTheatre

Theatre – Women in Australia: Stories of Courage

Venue: Pitt Street Uniting Church
Written By: Various playwrights
Directed By: Various directors

As part of Sydney Fringe 2018 Peach Productions presents a collection of eight new short plays written and directed by women of diverse backgrounds. The plays include stories of historical and fictional characters who overcome challenges to achieve identity and independence, and range in settings from early colonial times to the present day.

First up, Nurse Peggy (writer/director, Maggie Fitzgerald) is based on the life of Margaret Catchpole, who twice escaped the death sentence, and was transported for life. In conversation with the kindly but patronising upper-class Mrs Fulton (Melinda Latsos), Margaret (Deidre Campbell) shows a sturdy sense of independence and pride in her ability to have made a decent life for herself. She yearns to receive a pardon and be recognised again as a free woman, a wish she is eventually granted. We note that Mrs Fulton’s new maid, Tilly (Boronia Clark), shows an independent spirit as she defends her interest in market gardening, viewed by Mrs Fulton as not appropriate work for a woman.

In the second offering, Eliza (Colleen Henry/Maggie Franklin), a married school- teacher struggles for independence. Her husband, Thomas (Geoff Cordner,) sees no need to include his wife when he makes the life changing decision to sell their property in the Hunter Valley and take a labouring job in far away town. An astounded and hurt Eliza (Rowena McNicol), who has found her destiny in teaching, courageously refuses to accompany him. She not only feels loyalty to her young pupils but also to the future as, should she leave, the town would lose its school.

Louisa, the Dawn and the Vote (writer/director, Fitzgerald), shows our debt to Louisa Lawson, mother of Henry Lawson, who initiated the campaign for women’s voting rights in NSW. Through her newspaper Dawn, Louisa (Donna Randall) contributed to creating public attitudes favourable to enfranchisement by making women’s inequitable treatment public knowledge. By her example of single-minded and heroic dedication, she demonstrates that women can exert personal influence upon events.

This assumption that women do not have a personal destiny underlies Coming to Dinner. Set in a Filipino-Australian household, this good-humoured sketch (Elaine Laforteza/Meili Bookluck) gently raises the issue of role expectation. When a jittery son (Martin Sta, Ana) arrives for dinner at his mother’s flat intending to reveal a secret he feels will distress her, he is more than surprised when Lettie (Happy Feraren) reveals a secret of her own. Consumed with his own drama, he has not noticed, or even imagined, that his mother has an independent emotional life.

Assumptions are not just confined to gender expectation but extend also to other aspects of social interaction. With defiant wit and charm, Do Ability Divas, devised by Holly Craig, Madeleine Stuart and Uma Kali Shakti, critiques the pre-conceived way we respond to disability. A three-women “You can’t ask that!” team, they invite us to celebrate their refusal to be imprisoned by our own rather than their shortcomings.

Two monologues also feature in the program both of them distinctive and powerful. Island Journey, written and directed by Shakti, in which an anxious, tremulous woman (Veena Sudarshan) attempts to gain closure after the loss of her mother. A lovely figure, in a white sari, her expressive hand movements and bodily gesture conveyed an agony of mind that, thankfully, is assuaged after her ardous ordeal.

There’s Always Blessing, (Elizabeth Routledge/Victoria Rowland) is the story of a pioneer family at Bellingen. Told as if in response to questions from a journalist, the narrator, Mary Brownlee (Routledge) details a life of sacrifice and hardship but in which she has found fulfilment. A slight figure, dressed in the olive colours of the bush, she comes to her feet to emphasis her points, and sits to reminisce. A quietly impassioned speaker, she convinces us of the nobility of the woman pioneer.

This far-reaching and varied program includes Got You (Kel Vance/Katherine Babatzanis), a two hander, in which cross-cultural friends (Hope Disher, Dominque Perdue) face an almost impossible challenge. The courageous solution is carried out with love but is nonetheless terrible, and perhaps an unbearable responsibility.

The several plays in Stories of Courage allow a wide range of questions to be raised and in varying contexts. The women in these stories have faced their difficult life situations with strength, resilience and courage and their struggles to achieve independence and freedom are an inspiration to all who today still struggle to
achieve recognition of their unique value.

The venue, Pitt St Uniting Church, 264 Pitt St Sydney, is an imposing heritage building of late Georgian classical design, which underwent restoration in the 1980s, and is well worth a visit.

Evenings and Saturday Matinee

September 19-22, 2018.

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