ORIEL GRAY’S The Torrents is as relevant today as when she wrote it more than 60 years ago.
The play explores gender equality in the workplace, the impact of mining on the environment, and the power of money to corrupt the media.
In 1955 she was the joint winner of an Australian playwriting award for The Torrents, but incredibly it wasn’t performed live until 1996 in Adelaide, although a TV adaptation was filmed by the ABC in 1969.
Gray, a former communist who died in 2003, was perhaps a victim of gender bias and politics: the play’s edgy themes sat uneasily with mainstream society in the 1950s and as time marched on the text was largely forgotten about.
“The legend of the play is that it was the one that got away,” Black Swan director Clare Watson says.
“She was a great Australian writer whose work deserves an audience today.”
In the play, JG Milford (Celia Pacquola) lands a job as a journalist on a local paper in the 1890s in Koolgalla – a town inspired by Gray’s time in Kalgoorlie.
However the Koolgalla Argus’s owner Rufus Torrent (Tony Cogin) doesn’t realise J stands for Jenny and assumes she’s a bloke.
With gold mining petering out, plucky local Kingsley (Luke Carroll) wants to bring irrigation to the town to give it a future in agriculture.
But mining magnate Joh Manson (Steve Rodgers) isn’t keen, saying if the gold runs out he’ll simply move on.
Torrent and Manson have a stand up barney, and Manson threatens to stop bankrolling the paper.
“Newspapers aren’t there to tell the truth, they’re there so people believe what we tell them,” he snarls in a Trump-like manner.
There’s plenty of comedy in the play, supplied by Jenny’s co-workers Christy (Geoff Kelso), Jock (Sam Longley) and cadet Bernie (Rob Johnson).
Pacquola (Rosehaven and Utopia) seemed at first miscast, but soon warms to her role as an independent young woman adapt at handling her male colleagues, including Torrent’s son Ben (Gareth Davies).
Renée Mulder’s set is an elegantly constructed wood-paneled newsroom, circa late 1800s.
The Torrents is on until June 30 at the Perth State Theatre in Northbridge.
by JENNY D’ANGER