A newsroom comedy that rivals George Bernard Shaw, Black Swan and Sydney Theatre Company presents the WA premiere of Oriel Gray’s The Torrents in the Heath Ledger Theatre from 15 June, before playing the Drama Theatre – Sydney Opera House from 18 July 2019.
It’s the 1890s in the Goldfields. J.G. Milford has hopped off the train in the small town of Koolgalla to take on a job at the local paper. She’s smart, she’s savvy, she’s incredibly qualified, but nobody knew the J stood for Jenny!
Jenny’s arrival coincides with a trailblazing engineer’s outrageous idea to bring irrigation to the community and debate rages about whether the town should give up mining for a more sustainable economic future. Meanwhile, newspaper editor Rufus Torrent and his son Ben are vying for Jenny’s favour, even as she pulls apart their chauvinistic assumptions.
Written in 1955, Gray’s The Torrents will be directed by Black Swan Artistic Director Clare Watson. In the role of Jenny, Helpmann Award-winning comedian and actor Celia Pacquola (ABC’s Rosehaven, Utopia) will put the spotlight back on this neglected Australian classic.
“In the 1940s Oriel spent time in Kalgoorlie, which has inspired the fictional town of Koolgalla and the character of Kingsley bares some remarkable resemblances to our local hero C.Y.O’Connor,” says director Clare Watson. “The play itself is a period piece, set in the late 1890s. We’re thrilled to bring you this local story that we believe should always have been a classic.”
“It’s a fabulous melodrama full of big ideas and eccentric characters. We hope that you’ll find it searingly relevant in its themes – workplace gender politics, mining versus sustainable environmental practices and the power of money to corrupt truth in our media.”
Oriel Gray was born in Sydney in 1920. In 1937 she became a member of the Sydney New Theatre and later the Communist Party of Australia. During her time with the New Theatre she became their resident writer, organising and writing their radio show on 2KY as well as writing numerous revues, agit-pop plays, one act plays and four full-length plays, all of which were performed by the New Theatre.
Gray left the Sydney New Theatre when she left the Communist Party after becoming disillusioned with the party’s policies. In 1954, Gray’s play The Torrents shared the renowned Playwright’s Advisory Board Prize for best Australian play with Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. Both plays were promised productions, but only one was produced. The rest is history.
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll has traveled the world and become central to our Australian theatrical identity, whereas The Torrents was not published until 1988 and did not receive a professional production until 1996 at the Adelaide Festival of Arts.
Gray’s last play, Burst of Summer (produced by Irene Mitchell), won the J C Williamson Theatre Guild Competition in 1958. She has also written scripts for television, including episodes of Rush and The Sullivans, the half-hour dramas Antarctic Four and The Brass Guitar and many others, as well as working for twelve years as a script writer on Bellbird. Her autobiography Exit Left: Memoirs of a Scarlet Woman was published in 1985 and her only novel Animal Shop was published in 1990. She died in 2003.
“Oriel Gray’s name will take a prominent place in the history of Australian Theatre.” – The Daily News, Perth (1950)
Director: Clare Watson Featuring: Emily Rose Brennan, Luke Carroll, Tony Cogin, Gareth Davies, Rob Johnson, Geoff Kelso, Sam Longley, Celia Pacquola, Steve Rodgers Assistant Director: Emily McLean Set & Costume Designer: Renée Mulder Lighting Designer: Lucy Birkinshaw Sound Designer/Composer: Joe Paradise Lui Dramaturg: Virginia Gay
Heath Ledger Theatre – State Theatre Centre of WA, 182 William Street, Perth
Season: 19 – 30 June 2019 (previews: 15 – 18 June)
Information and Bookings: www.bsstc.com.au
Drama Theatre – Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney
Season: 22 July – 24 August 2019 (previews: 18 & 19 July)
Information and Bookings: www.sydneytheatre.com.au
Image: Celia Pacquola as Jenny – photo by Rene Vaile