Written by Oriel Gray
Directed by Lexi Sekuless
Mill Theatre at Dairy Road to 3 December.
Reviewed by Len Power 24 November 2022
Oriel Gray’s play ‘The Torrents’ has the distinction of being joint winner of the best play award for 1955 by the Playwrights' Advisory Board along with‘ The Summer of The Seventeenth Doll’, the famous Australian play, which is still performed regularly. ‘The Torrents’, meanwhile, has not achieved the same ongoing popularity, possibly because its plot could take place anywhere in the world while ‘The Doll’ is so specifically Australian.
The play is set in a newspaper office of the fictional country town of Koolgalla during a gold rush era in the second half of the 19th century. A young woman is employed there in spite of it being a male-dominated office. Such an office is considered to ‘be no place for a woman’, at least by the men working there. This progressive woman shows them she is more than capable of making a success of her job in spite of the men’s attitudes.
This production, the first at the new Mill Theatre, is directed by Lexi Sekuless, who also takes the young woman’s role.
Sekuless, as director, gives the play a novel twist. The many male characters are played by women and non-binary performers. This gives the play another dimension as the men display the prevailing attitudes against women that predominated at the time.
Sekuless is charismatic in the lead role of the young woman, J.G. Milford. The rest of the cast do as well as they can, but it was difficult to suspend belief and accept them as male characters. ‘Trying to be male’ has its limitations and there’s not a lot of real depth visible in the characterisations. Some actors play more than one role, making it confusing as well.
The play itself is advertised as ‘an Australian screwball comedy’ which it clearly is not. It doesn’t have the zaniness of the films classed as screwball comedies like ‘Bringing Up Baby’, ‘The Lady Eve’ and ‘The Awful Truth’. It plays as a mildly amusing comedy-drama.
The play is of its time but it is interesting to consider that its message of women being just as capable in a traditional male workplace was probably quite revolutionary in 1955. It certainly still has relevance for today.
Victoria ‘Fi’ Hopkins’ costume designs are particularly fine and very much in period. The overall production design with its well-chosen furniture and props looks quite authentic.
Lexi Sekuless is to be congratulated for reviving this play in a challenging and courageous production. The best theatre takes risks and is more memorable as a result. Future productions by this new company will be watched with interest.
Photo by Tim Ngo