Written by Alana Valentine
Based on the novel by Frank Moorhouse
Directed by Carolyn Stacey
The Street Theatre to 18 March
Reviewed by Len Power 4 March 2017
In the play, ‘Cold Light’, the character, Edith, says, "In Canberra you can enjoy the privilege and discomforts of all three modes of living in one place - the capital, the rural life and exile."
For Canberrans, the subject matter of ‘Cold Light’ is of particular interest, historically and politically. Based on the third book of Frank Moorhouse’s ‘The Edith Trilogy’, the story takes place from the post-war years of the Menzies Government to the 1970s Whitlam era. The drama focusses on Edith Campbell Berry, an ambitious career woman who, before coming to Canberra, has previously worked in the League Of Nations. She and her husband, diplomat Ambrose Westwood, used to the liberalism of their lives in Europe, have to deal with the conservatism of Canberra in the 1950s. With her husband a cross dresser and a brother in the Communist Party, Edith has to walk a fine line between career and her own personal life.
As Edith, Sonia Todd gives a strong, believable performance as the career woman with bohemian leanings. Tobias Cole as her husband, Ambrose, gives a fine, in depth portrait of an intelligent, well-educated diplomat who is also a cross dresser. The rest of the cast play multiple roles very effectively, creating nicely etched, clear and believable characters.
Production values for the show are very high. The attractive set, designed by Maria T. Reginato, gives a strong flavour of the era in architectural terms and the costumes designed by Imogen Keen, especially those for Edith, are stylish and in tune with the fashions of the times. Lighting by Linda Buck enhances the atmosphere as does Kimmo Vernonen’s excellent sound design.
Carolyn Stacey’s direction of the show uses the various areas of the stage very well, keeping the action moving along at a good pace and she has achieved fine characterisations from her cast.
Alana Valentine has given us a play that will resonate with Canberra audiences in particular. She writes good characters and the first act was particularly effective at creating a nice sense of the diplomatic world that Edith moves in. The second act was less effective, lacking dramatic tension and leading to a climax that was curiously unmoving.
Overall, this is a very interesting and well-staged play about a fascinating era in Canberra history.
Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s ‘Artcetera’ program (9am on Saturdays) and ‘Dress Circle’ 3.30pm Mondays).