Petty Traffikers are a company whose aim is to bring classic literature, especially Australian, to theatre audiences. They have already produced several successful seasons of Australian works including C J Dennis's The Sentimental Bloke and Ginger Mick at Gallipoli as well as Henry Lawson's The Drover's Wife and The Bush Undertaker.
Each of these are iconic works of Australian literature which, with the exception of The Drover's Wife in which Lawson celebrates the strength of a woman left alone in the bush, feed into the myth of the Australian male, as city bloke, digger or bushman. With their latest production, The Chosen Vessel, Petty Traffikers have turned to three short stories by Barbara Baynton, a contemporary of Lawson, although less well known. Her voice is distinctive and her writing offers a much darker, more gothic picture of the Australian bush, focussing on the experiences of women in a lonely and hostile environment.
In the first story, A Dreamer, a pregnant young woman gets lost in a storm in the bush on her way to see her mother, but struggles on to reach her childhood home. In Squeaker's Mate, a woman is injured when a tree falls on her and, confined to bed, she watches as her husband lets the property go to ruin and brings a younger woman to her home on the pretence of her looking after his ill wife. The Chosen Vessel is an horrific story of a young woman with her baby, left alone in a bush hut, who finds herself at the mercy of a threatening stranger.
The three stories are not equally well realised, despite the energy of the actors (Chloe Armstrong, Joe Clements and Margo Knight) and a creative use of minimal set design - a bathtub with water combined with branches serves to effectively create the fear and tension of the young pregnant woman as she attempts to struggle across a swollen creek in the midst of a violent storm. The dialogue was often lost in the echoing space that is Theatreworks and at times there was too much manic energy.
Squeaker's Mate was the least successful. For me the intensity and strength of this particular story lies in the thoughts of the woman as she lies, immobile and in pain, watching her world crumble around her. However in this production Squeaker is the only character who speaks and he is written as a rather dumb, sometimes funny, but certainly very nasty piece of work, who has no dramatic trajectory, in contrast to the increasing horror that is his mate's situation.
Both A Dreamer and The Chosen Vessel were more successful, bringing alive the powerful writing of Baynton with all its gothic intensity.
It is never easy adapting the written word to the stage and even more difficult when one chooses to be faithful to the original text. However works such as these do deserve a new audience and it is good to know that their work is being brought back to life for new audiences.
Petty Traffikers and the 2007 Theatreworks Company Initiative Program present
Venue: Theatreworks | 14 Acland St ST KILDA
Preview: Wed October [email protected]
Dates: Nov 1-18
Times: Tuesday @ 6.30pm, Wed - Sat @ 8pm, Sun @ 4pm
Cost: F $25 / C $18
Bookings: (03) 9534 3388 & www.theatreworks.org.au