Saturday, 4 September 1999

Blood Sister, Sept 4, 1999

Blood Sister
 by Daniel Keene at Trades Hall until September 26, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The poor old Kelly clan was an unhappy one. Ned hanged, Dan burned, Mum gaoled and sister Kate drowned. There is nothing glamorous about their lives.

Daniel Keene has revamped his play, Blood Sister, written in 1989, for this production directed by Tim Maddock who directed Keene's play, The Architect's Walk for The Adelaide Festival last year. The show has unobtrusive lighting by Shane Grant and a simple design by Kari Morseth.

Blood Sister, written for four women, (Rhonda Wilson, Laura Lattuada, Josephine Fisher, Maryanne Sam) is a grim story constructed around Kate Kelly's "rest cure" in a sanatorium 20 years after her brother's hanging.

Kate (Wilson) is a drunk, an opium addict and a depressive who drifts in and out of reality and distorted dreams or memories of her lost childhood and her damned family.

The three other women act as a chorus in the style of the ancient Greek theatre. They chant, sing Irish ballads, ululate and wail in semi-darkness, speaking in verse, a mode that is one of Keene's trademarks.

As chorus, they criticise, support or taunt Kate in her delicate state

His dialogue shifts between the realistic and the poetic. These two styles are distinctive in all of Keene's writing but it is generally the gritty realism that is the more successful dramatically. This was the case in many most of the short plays in the Keene-Taylor Project.

The women play characters from Kate's life. Her sister Maggie (Fisher) appears in a dream, obsessed with death. A sanctimonious worker tries to support and advise her in the sanatorium (Sam).

The play remains distinctly humourless throughout, lacking the rollicking Irish humour one might expect, even in deep sadness. The exception is the scenes involving Kate's fellow drunken sanatorium inmate, played with comic relish by Lattuada.

Blood Sister provides us with a good deal of information about Kat and the Kelly gang, particularly the siege at Glenrowan at which Ned was captured and Dan burned to death. Kate was a witness to these horrors and spent the rest of her life trying to escape them. In the late 20th century, she would be treated for post-traumatic stress.

She rebuilt her life, marrying and living with husband and children in Forbes until an actress in a travelling show, called "The True History of the Kelly Gang," recognised her, leading to Kate being hounded by her new community. Is it any wonder she wanted to kill herself?

by Kate Herbert for 2 pages

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