Lost classic of Australian feminist theatre rediscovered

Celia Pacquola in The Torrents

The Torrents
Written by Oriel Gray
Directed by Clare Watson
Starring Emily Rose Brennan, Luke Carroll, Tony Cogin, Gareth Davies, Rob Johnson, Geoff Kelso, Sam Longley, Celia Pacquola, Steve Rodgers
A Black Swan andv Sydney Theatre Company co-production
Season: Perth 15 - 30 June, Sydney 18 July - 24 August 2019

The Torrents is a long-neglected highlight of Australian theatre, which jointly won a 1955 competition for best Australian play with Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. The Doll went on to international success and remains a classic; The Torrents unfortunately sank like a stone.

The Torrents' only previous professional production was in 1996 in Adelaide. This Black Swan Theatre Company/Sydney Theatre Company co-production is bound to rekindle interest in its writer, Oriel Gray.

Gray was a member of the Communist Party from the 1930s until the early 1950s and learned her theatrical skills in the CPA’s New Theatre movement. She was one of the few Australian playwrights to make a living from writing and eventually moved into TV scripting.

In 1985 she published a memoir called Exit Left: Memoirs of a Scarlet Woman.

The Torrents is a very accessible comedy with a sharp cutting edge. Set in the 1890s in an imaginary gold mining town, the plot centres on the rivalry of newspaper editor Rufus Torrent and his son Ben, who is struggling to get out of his father’s shadow.

The explosive factor that shakes the whole town up is the arrival of a newly recruited reporter. Nobody realised that the JG Milford (played by Celia Pacquola) who won the job is actually a woman until she walks through the door.

All sorts of feminist, macho and class angles are explored to huge comic effect, with boisterous acting and some great sight gags.

Good politics, a lost masterpiece, superb cast — what is there not to like? The Torrents is well worth the trip to the theatre.

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