Saturday, September 4, 2010


By Tommy Murphy,
Presented by Company B Belvoir,
Belvoir St. Theatre. Sydney
4th August to 19th September.2010

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

"Gwen in Purgatory" is a new play by Queanbeyan playwright, Tommy Murphy, who already has another  play "Holding the Man" running on the West End in London.

Interestingly, this play is set in Queanbeyan, and focusses on a fiercely independent 90 year-old widow, Gwen, who, following the death of her husband, and against the wishes and advice of her family, buys herself a brand new three-bedroom house, complete with all mod.cons; the first house built in a new housing estate.

As the play opens we find Gwen, alone in the huge family room, surrounded by unpacked boxes, trying to cope with the phones, the remote controls for the microwave, the airconditioning and the burglar alarm. One by one various members of her family arrive to assist her, although Gwen insists she is confident she can manage alone. Several arguments result as Gwen fights for her independence during which some devastatingly shattering home-truths emerge.

Directed by Neil Armfield, "Gwen in Purgatory" is funny ...on the surface. The performances are superb, particularly those of Melissa Jaffer as Gwen, and Sue Ingleton as her wretched daughter, Peg. Grant Dodwell plays Gwen's self-serving son, Laurie, Nathaniel Dean,  her equally self-serving grandson, Daniel, and Pacharo Mzembe plays Father Exekiel, a young priest who inadvertently finds himself involved in the family arguments.

However, beneath the highly amusing surface, Tommy Murphy has managed to pack quite a few solid punches which challenge our attitudes to growing old, how we treat our elderly, and indeed, how we priortise our lives. Compelling and thought-provoking, "Gwen in Purgatory" is a play I haven't been able to get out of my mind. I like that sort of play.

(This review was broadcast by Artsound FM 92.7, during "Dress Circle" on Sunday 29th August 2010)