THE TORRENTS @ Heath Ledger Theatre gets 8.5/10

Written by Oriel Gray
Directed by Clare Watson
Starring Celia Pacquola, Luke Carroll, Tony Cogin, Gareth Davies
Wednesday, June 19, 2019


Black Swan Theatre delivered another brilliantly sublime piece of theatre with the opening night of Australian playwright Oriel Gray’s The Torrents at Heath Ledger Theatre. Known as the play that got away, The Torrents was the joint winner of a prestigious writing award along with Summer of the Seventeenth Doll in 1955. Such a feminist play being overlooked in 1955 is understandable, as it was so far ahead of its time. Perhaps 1950s Australia was not ready for such subversive thinking from a female playwright of Gray’s ilk, but it is fitting that she is heard now, and who better to bring her voice so eloquently to the stage than Black Swan’s artistic director, Clare Watson.

Black Swan are at the forefront, as always, by bringing this vital work to the stage in its only professional production since 1996. The Torrents is a sharp-witted, beautifully written period piece set in the 1890s, outlining the experience of a female journalist deep-diving into the world of publishing, before women had the right to such an endeavour, in the apparently fictional town of Koolgalla, based on our own Kalgoorlie. Working for father and son Rufus (Tony Cogin) and Ben Torrent (Gareth Davies) in their newspaper, writer J.G. Milford’s (Celia Pacquola, in her theatrical debut) arrival causes a stir once the all-male staff realise that they have accidentally employed a woman. Such a scandal for those times, much less in a small mining town. Hilarity ensues as they come to grips with this talented and sassy woman in their midst, and the cast does an exceptional job at bringing the scandal to life with warmth, precociousness and sheer talent in their performances.

Pacquola’s stage debut was phenomenal, and a brilliant casting choice. Known for her quick wit and engaging stage presence as a multi award-winning comedian, as well as on-screen roles in television (Rosehaven) and film (The Breaker Upperers), she provided an unexpected welcome with an endearingly delivered comedy spot. Providing insight into some facts and history about the play with an openly genuine love for it, it was a welcome warm up from a professional stand-up and a genius move that immediately invited the audience in to have a chuckle with her.

Once again, the set and costume design is a work of creative genius by Renee Mulder. Based on the actual office space of Kalgoorlie newspaper the Western Argus and inspired by Victorian offices, the multi-layered structure made full use of every aspect of the Heath Ledger Theatre. From the muted browns of the stacks of newspapers to the ochre dust of the Pilbara in every aspect, including the hems of costumes, each intricate detail is note-perfect and an intrinsic part of the storytelling. Soft, amber lighting refracted across the stage, every part an amalgamation of our stunning country.

For this writer whose paternal grandmother was one of Australia’s first female journalists, this was a particularly personal touchstone of Australian history and feminist history that strikes a chord which rings true. It hits close to home, knowing she sat through such an experience, forced to use a male nom de plume in order to be published. It is also personally connected to director Clare Watson, whose grandmother trod those same rickety and unwelcoming floorboards with steadfast feet.

Watson’s cheeky bent on this feminist work makes for a raucously fun time, clearly revelled in by the audience without the message diluted with humour. Who says feminism can’t be fun? Not Black Swan, that’s for sure.


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