As an opening scene, a mischievous blond teenager attempting to deflower an angst-ridden fellow schoolgirl is quite an attention-grabber, but it sets the tone well for the hour or so that follows.
As does the oversized pair of crotchless panties that serves as the backdrop for the whole performance. (with the ... ermm... split forming the main curtain entry – ahem)
It also sets in mind the overriding confusion I felt throughout this joyful romp among Dorothy Hewett's work: are these her stories or her life histories?
After all, the show meanders through a range of different and seemingly unrelated scenes, songs and recitals, with the only connecting thread being a gradually ageing blond woman with a generous nature, healthy sexual appetite and romantic, melodramatic approach to life.
It's all good fun, but I waited in vain for a story line to emerge that would draw it all together.
Nevertheless the cast enters into the blowsy, witty, bawdiness of it all with great gusto and you can't help but enjoy the moment.
The show is presented by Perilous Productions, whose members are all serious fans of Dorothy Hewett's work, to mark the 10th anniversary of her death. But while she is described as "an iconic Australian literary figure", her work remains largely unknown among the general public (and certainly ones like myself who are recent arrivals in Australia), so it is good that the program contains a wealth of background information.
In her notes, researcher and performer Alison Richards acknowledges this blurring of lines and states that Hewett became a "self-reflexive writer who drew heavily on her own life events and experiences for the plots and characters that people her stage".
The title Miss Hewett's Shenanigans was originally given to a poem, but was also used for the first performance of this show in 1975. It is described by Richards as "somewhere between a theatrical autobiography and an all-singing, all-dancing finger salute to bourgeois convention", and it was possibly created in response to libel action by her ex-husband, who tried to stop a book of her poems being published. Two of her plays still cannot be performed in WA as a result of a later action.
The performers drew heavily on this original show but, with much of the original source material missing, inevitably there has been some modern additions and interpretations; the music, for example, was written by musical director Robert Stephens and cast member Jane Bayly.
It is unlikely anyone in the audience would be expert enough on Hewett's original work to know the difference, but I suspect the group's talent, and their obvious respect for the work, would ensure even Hewett herself would have been pleased.
Hewett fans will no doubt be enthralled by this show and those who don't know her work would do well to read up some poems before and become acquainted. Or just give in to the madness and go with the flow.
Perilous Productions presents
Miss Hewett's Shenaningans
Directed by Suzanna Chaundy
Venue: La Mama Courthouse
Dates: August 22 – 26; August 30 – September 2, 2012
Times: Wed, Sun 6.30pm; Thu, Fri, Sat 7.30pm
Tickets: $25 – $15