|Lexi Sekuless as J.G.Milford in “The Torrents”.
Canberra CityNews - Photo: Tim Ngo
The Torrents by Oriel Gray. Presented by Lexi Sekuless Productions at The Mill Theatre, Canberra, November 23 – December 3 2022.
Reviewed by Frank McKone
Director – Lexi Sekuless; Designer – Victoria ‘Fi’ Hopkins
Movement Direction – Netty Sharpe and Tim Sekuless
Musical Arrangements – Leisa Keen
Voice and Acting Coach – Sarah Carroll
Production Stage Manager – Zeke Chalmers
Mentors – Julian Meyrick and Wendy Strehlow
Sound Production – Andrew Brown; Lighting Designer – Stefan Wronski
Prop Design – Tracy Cui
Front of House – Katrina Williams, Branka Gajic, Fiona Wade
Christy and Stuwell – Helen McFarlane; Bernie and Squires – Bronte Batham
Jock and Twimple – Elaine Noon; Gwynne Thomas – Jasmin Shojai
Kingsley Myers – Stefanie Lekkas; Rufus Torrent – Rachel Howard
Ben Torrent - Kat Smalley; J. G. Milford – Lexi Sekuless
John Manson – Heidi Silberman
Theatre is all about style and the intentions of both the playwright and the director. A director in today’s world may create a show in a way that the writer, long ago, could never have imagined. Yet, a production should be in tune with the author’s purpose. I think in this production of The Torrents the style is a mismatch, despite the director’s good intentions.
The good intention was to use the play to emphasise Oriel Gray’s purpose, in writing – in the 1950s as a Communist – about the right for women to have equal status with men. There is an irony in the fact that Gray’s play employs only two women actors in a cast of twelve. To employ women today to play all the male as well as the female characters makes sense. To use as a theme Madonna’s song about being a ‘material’ girl in a ‘material’ world is a device which makes the feminist point.
The women’s singing, marking the scene changes, was genuinely beautiful – along with the amusing dance sequences – but, writing inevitably as a male theatre critic, I feel I may be on some shaky ground when I say the style of performing the play too much as a shouting match undermined an important part of Oriel Gray’s script. We lost, not only often the detail of the words, but the sensitivity Oriel showed in the men characters’ development of understanding.
The important example, though the writing is often amusing, is that Rufus Torrent’s gradual recognition of J. G. (Jenny) Milford’s human quality and intellectual strength, and his coming to understand the value of his son – and his realising the importance of Kingsley’s water supply plan – is the key to appreciating Gray’s purpose. She set the play in the previous century, at the time in real history when the idea of the ‘New Woman’ became established. Her Jenny Milford is not a star-performing material girl, but a sensitive woman who we can believe in as she shows her capacity to help the men – the young Bernie and Ben – and finally even the boss Rufus, to understand themselves. And, in doing so, she realises that she and Rufus are a pair, on a level of equal status.
For me, then, when in this production Jenny rushes off in a teenage kind of excitement to go to Rufus as the play ends, as the shouting style comedy required, Oriel Gray would have shaken her head. Her J. G. Milford, despite doubts about herself at some points, is now in charge, on an equal basis with Rufus because they both have come to understand themselves and each other. This is the point of the play, growing out of the comedy and male competition, which this production missed.
The other character of great concern for Oriel Gray is Kingsley Myers, the designer of the water supply scheme who is treated abominably by the men with the money. In real history the model for his character was Charles O’Connor, whose 530-kilometre-long pipeline Eastern Goldfields Water Supply Scheme in Western Australia was finally completed, but only after his death, by suicide. Though Gray did not take his story to its final conclusion, in the style of this production he is presented in a quite superficial way, rather than developing the depth of personal despair which Gray intended.
So my conclusion is that though I could see an interesting and worthwhile idea behind this production of The Torrents, and enjoyed the singing, and some of the comedy roles such as Helen McFarlane’s Christy as well as the straight presentation of the other woman, Gwynne, by Jasmin Shojai, I couldn’t enjoy the show overall because the style didn’t suit the play’s setting in its time and place in Australian history, nor the characters’ development as Oriel Gray intended in this play which in 1955 was joint winner of the Playwrights' Advisory Board Competition with Summer of the Seventeenth Doll by Ray Lawler.