Patrick White’s highly stylised yet keenly observant play depicting a less than glorious aspect of suburban Australian society received an underwhelming reception when it debuted in 1963. It could be that A Cheery Soul cut too close to the bone, was too morbid, or too cynical in its humour for the self-conscious, conservative population at the time. Since then, however, the play had established itself as a pinnacle in Australian literature, and its themes and satire – still very relevant – have become better understood and appreciated. Sydney Theatre Company is mounting a new production with director Kip Williams at the helm. The much anticipated end of season show will see innovative and dynamic directing from Williams come together with White’s poetic, astute writing in a theatrical perfect storm.
Set in the fictional working class town of Sarsparilla, the story centres on Miss Docker (played by the exceptional Sarah Peirse), a 60 year old, fiercely opinionated, interfering, devout Christian who insinuates herself into people’s lives, causing havoc.
“We’re watching this woman who kind of has nowhere to anchor herself,” says Shari Sebbens who plays Mrs Hibble, the leader of the “old girls”, a kind of elderly Greek chorus. Sebbens, like many other cast members, is playing a character much older than herself. She can’t explain exactly why Williams has cast that way, but she enjoys the challenge, especially because Williams is encouraging a cheeky, sassy interpretation of her character. It may be all part of surreal world the director is trying to build.
“The way he’s approached it, it’s got a very film noir sense, so from the very outset… you know this is a stylised world, and the audience is being asked to kind of turn their ears and their eyes on…” explains Sebbens. She’s quick to point out, though, that the characters have depth and are not mere caricatures. Williams will also be employing his signature device of projecting images onto the back wall allowing the actors to have a subconscious voice. Sound is another important element and Williams’ sister, Clemence has composed an original score for the play. As Sebbens describes it, there’s something for all the senses:
“It’s going to be a real experience… it has a lot of heart and a lot of big…feeling.”
Until Dec 15. Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney. $65-$108+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.sydneytheatre.com
By Rita Bratovich