Left – Craig Alexander and Sonia Todd. Cover – Tobias Cole and Sonia Todd. Photo – Shelly Higgs
We are all living in history. Few are the history-makers. But at what cost to self, loved ones and our nation? Cold Light explores many themes, and those who experienced the 1950s to 1970s era will relate the most.
Set mostly in Canberra, Cold Light is a historical drama of local and national history from 1950 up to 1973. Through the actions of fictional and real-life personalities, there are many topics packed into this two and a half hour production: feminism, communism, sexuality, power, greed…and a healthy dose of Canberran in-jokes.
The original tale comes from Australian author Frank Moorhouse’s 700+ page epic published in 2011. The stage adaptation Cold Light is from acclaimed Australian playwright Alana Valentine of recent 2016 production Letters to Lindy.
For those familiar with Moorhouse’s fiction, Cold Light is the third in the ‘Edith’ series, taking up fictional character Edith Campbell Berry’s exit from the crumbled League of Nations in Europe to the diplomatic hub yet rural backwater of Canberra. Edith sees herself on a path to being Australia’s first female ambassador. Engaging heavily in the social set with British High Commission staffer husband Ambrose, she promotes herself as special assistant to the city planner. Her direction focuses into achieving the plans to have a lake worthy of a grand capital. Over the decades, Edith clambers up the career ladder, steamrolling male egos with her brazen sexuality and self-confidence.
The role of Edith is challenging: she needs to age some 25 years during the play, and experience major life events. Sonia Todd channels the feisty yet feminine Edith with elegant posture and quick retorts. Apart from Todd in the lead role, other cast members each play more than one character. Kiki Skountzos transforms across acts as passionate communist Janice and an enthusiastic young female external affairs officer Amelia. Tobias Cole is superb as Ambrose: his graceful moves in glamorous gowns are worthy of a spin-off production. Craig Alexander, Nick Byrne and Gerard Carroll also fill in as real political figures and fictional supporting characters such as Gough Whitlam, and Edith’s long-lost communist brother Frederick.
Alana Valentine expertly strings together many historical figures in the jumble of backdrop humanity. The script is a mix of straight dialogue with a variety of dramatic twists: many scene exchanges, poetry-like monologues, a cappella singing and sprinklings of comedic moments. The effect is a push and pull journey to maintain interest. Covering decades could so easily be a mess of confusion for any production. Thankfully it is always clear the scene is different. From costume designer Imogen Keen is a magnificent wardrobe for all the cast – especially Edith’s classic 1950s gowns through to funky 70s boots. Kimmo Vennonen’s sound design is a harbinger of mood with funky jazz to contemplative cicadas.
Cold Light is an epic tale, across many years and many moods. So what relevance is such a setting to today? There are some obvious parallels: gender inequality, government control of free speech, the worship of youth. The people who would enjoy Cold Light the most are those with passion for the greater good – and who know the historical references.
The Street Theatre
adapted by Alana Valentine | based on the novel by Frank Moorhouse
Director Caroline Stacey
Venue: The Street Theatre, 15 Childers St, Canberra City West
Dates: 4 – 18 March 2017
Tickets: $35 – $55
Bookings: (02) 6247 1223 | www.thestreet.org.au