Our March picks for community theatre
Tom Healey - AustralianPlays.org Literary Manager
The two plays I have chosen this month are both drawn from the canon of Australian plays. The older of the two, The Torrents by Oriel Gray is a particular favourite of mine and hails from the 1950’s. Clem Gorman’s Gallipoli: A Manual of Trench Warfare was originally performed in 1979 and is a classic in the WWI genre.
Oriel Gray’s The Torrents has a peculiar and somewhat bittersweet place in Australian theatre history. In 1955 it shared first prize in the Playwrights’ Advisory Board competition. This was an award that was set up to encourage and develop the art and craft of playwriting which at that time was almost exclusively imported from Britain, Europe and America. 1955 was a turning point because it was the year where not only The Torrents won, but it shared its distinction with Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. The two plays make a fascinating comparison – rural vs urban, personal vs political, private vs public. The basic premise of The Torrents is that a rural newspaper in need of a new journalist has appointed, sight unseen, one J. G. Milford. Of course, all of the staff expect a man, but the J here stands for Jenny. Gray was a deeply passionate political playwright and the themes, both in terms of gender and ecology, are deep and vivid. This is a surprisingly fresh and beautiful work, neglected for far too long.
It’s not drawing too long a bow to say that Gallipoli: A Manual of Trench Warfare is a contemporary classic of Australian theatre. Written in the late 70’s, before WWI became the subject du jour that it has been recently due to the centenary of Gallipoli, this is a hard hitting and moving account of the trenches and the bonds that formed between those who served in them. This is a play which has received many productions over the years due to its direct and honest account of that most terrible war. It is a difficult subject and prey to all sorts of interpretations and political point-scoring. Clem Gorman stays out of all of that territory and simply tells the story of a young man, Barry Moon, and what he experienced out there. It is a beautiful text full of vivid images and incredible stories of courage and heroism.
Tom Healey, Literary Manager