Monday, August 27, 2018


The Darcy Family in STC's The Harp in the South. Photo; Daniel Boud

The Harp In The South by Ruth Park. 

Adapted by Kate Mulvaney. Directed by Kip Williams. Designed by David Fleischer. Costume designer Renee Mulder. Lighting designer Nick Schlieper. Composer The Sweats. Sound designer Nate Edmondson. Musical director. Luke Byrne. Assicstant director Jessica Arthur. Movement and Fight director Nigel Poulton. Voice and text coach. Charmian Gradwel. Roslyn Packer Theatre.  Sydney Theatre Company. Premiered on Saturday August 25th.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins 

Charlie Rothe (guy Simon) marries Rouie Darcy (Rose Riley) Photo: Daniel Boud

Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Kate Mulvaney’s adaptation of Ruth Park’s trilogy, The Harp in the South is one of those rare theatrical experiences that remain forever indelibly printed upon the mind as a masterpiece of the Australian stage. Mulvaney has spent three years finding the heart and soul of Ruth Park’s Missus, The Harp in the South and Poor Man’s Orange. STC’s Artistic Director Kip Williams has fashioned an epic portrait of the life of the Darcy Family in Surry Hills between the two world wars and post the Second World War in the Forties. Vast in its panoramic sweep of Park’s intimate observation of the people who struggle to live out their lives on Plymouth Street and microscopic in its investigation of the hopes, the dreams and the torments of the panoply of characters who people this world of courageous battlers, society’s flotsam and jetsum and people unwittingly caught up in the maelstrom of misfortune. In the tradition of Dorothy Hewitt’s Man from Muckinupin, Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet and the staged production of Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby, The Harp in the South is a classic production of a classic Australian work. It is a production that will stay with you in heart and mind.

What is so remarkable is the production’s ability to capture the very essence of the period, whether that be the festive community spirit of the country town of Trafalgar, the down and out dirt and grime of the houses on Plymouth Street or the struggling city life upon the streets of Surry Hills. We can feel the ground, breathe the air and live in the very hearts and minds of the characters that people this intensely visceral world. Cast and creatives conjure an epic tapestry of experience that propels us into the minutiae of Park’s evocative world. Mulvaney’s adaptation is precise in its faithful adherence to Park’s novels, but free enough to allow the drama to thrive without the encumbrance of burdensome fidelity. We are witnessing a powerful and gripping drama unfold, unhindered by pedantic allegiance. We live every moment of the lives of the Darcy Family and the host of characters that people the stage for the six hours of Parts One and Two.

What emerges is an experience that transcends all expectation and hurls us headlong into an unconscious involvement in every moment of this absorbing production. Young love of young Margaret Kilker (Rose Riley) turns to the struggle to survive by the adult Margaret (Anita Hegh), Young Hugh Darcy (Ben O’Toole) discovers hope turned to the  disillusion of adult Darcy (Jack Finsterer), the promise of Dolour Darcy (Contessa Treffone) to loss and despair. And yet, through all this hope remains, defiantly expressed by brothel madam Delie Stock (Helen Thomson) and Father Cooley (Bruce Spence). The overarching impression is one of community, of shared experience and a resilience that in spite of the tragedy, the eviction, the disappearance of young Thady Darcy (Joel Bishop) or the death of a daughter (Rose Riley) or poor simple Johnny Sheily (Rahel Romahn) the community and the battlers will survive. Mr. Gunnarson (Bruce Spence) and Miss Sheily (Tara Morice) find comfort in each other while Dolour discovers love with Charlie Rothe (Guy Simon) A superb cast, playing as many as six characters each in this epic saga, bring not only every character, but the entire world of Ruth Park’s Surry Hills to life in a theatrical triumph that carries you away through vales of nostalgia, mountains of emotion and a belief that love and the spirit of community can prevail and sustain. It is a salutary lesson for all time. We may laugh at the old fashioned antics and attitudes of Heather Mitchell’s Eny Kilker or weep at Margaret’s desperate search for her missing son, but we will always recognize a part of ourselves in every character on the stage.
Delie Stock (Helen Thomson) in The Harp in the South

We saw the three and a half hour matinee followed in the evening by the two hours and twenty minutes second part. If you are unable to see it all on the one day, be sure to see Part One first, or even Part One only if unable to see both parts. You will be amply rewarded by your visit to a production that I predict will sweep the Helpmann Awards. Whatever your decision, hurry to secure your seats. I offer another prediction – this brilliant production will sell out within a very short time, once the reviews and word of mouth hits the streets. I leave the final word to Kate Mulvaney as expressed in the programme “I hope this play makes you look at the person next to you and smile…Embrace a hopeful future. And keep passing the baton of stories and community.” Her adaptation of Ruth Park’s novels under Kip William’s superb direction of his brilliant cast does all this and much more.