“The Torrents” by Oriel Gray is a Black Swan and Sydney Theatre Company co-production. The play is set in the 1890’s in a printing office of a newspaper in a fading goldmining town. “The Torrents” is sometimes described as a forgotten classic of Australian Theatre which is an apt description since in 1954 it was jointly awarded, with “Summer of the Seventeenth Doll”, Best Play, by the Playwrights Advisory Board. “The Torrents” having been produced professionally only once before in 1996 at the Adelaide Festival of Arts, has not enjoyed the fame of the “Doll”.
Oriel Gray tells the story of a woman in a man’s world. J.G. (Jenny) Milford (Celia Pacquola) obtains the position of editorial assistant in a newspaper office set in the fictional gold mining town of Koolgalla. Her arrival sets the scene for the ensuing debate about the place of females in a man’s world.
With a sub plot about what will happen to the town when the gold runs out, this period piece makes a comment on women’s and environmental issues and media integrity that are still relevant today. The comment by the co-proprietor of the “Koolgalla Argus”, John Manson (Steve Rodgers) that a journalist’s job is “to tell people what to think” is particularly telling.
The play’s ‘Jack the Lad’, Ben Torrent (Gareth Davies) is in conflict with his Editor and likewise, Father, Rufus Torrent (Tony Cogin) over the irrigation proposal put forward by engineer Kingsley (Luke Carroll). Torrent Jnr eloquently supports the proposal and unknown to him, is supported by Jenny and the rest of the editorial staff; Christy (Geoff Kelso), Jock McDonald (Sam Longley) and Bernie (Rob Johnson) who conspire to print the editorial without Torrent Snr’s knowledge. The son wins the day, father is converted to the cause and Manson receives his comeuppance. Young Torrent’s love interest Gwynne (Emily Rose Brennan) sees in Jenny another way of life for a woman and calls off their engagement. We are left with the suggestion that Ben and Jenny deserve each other. Good luck with that!
The multi-level set and costumes designed by Renee Mulder were perfect for the period and complemented by the lighting design by Lucy Birkinshaw.
It’s always a pleasure seeing an Australian story presented on stage and this production was no exception. The moments of farce: slammed doors, likkity split entrances; exits and a pratfall were all handled with expertise and superb comic timing. The performances were well defined, however, I thought Ms Pacquola’s interpretation of her character a little understated.
“The Torrents” is showing at the Heath Ledger Theatre until June 30 with a season to follow at the Sydney Opera House, July 18 – August 24.
Photo credits Philip Gostelow