Tuesday, 9 May 2006

Mrs. Petrov’s Shoe by Noelle Janaczewska, May 9, 2006

Mrs. Petrov’s Shoe by Noelle Janaczewska 
 fortyfivedownstairs,l May 9 to 21, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Noelle Janaczewska based her play, Mrs. Petrov’s Shoe, on the literary scandal surrounding Helen Darville/Demidenko. Darville won the Vogel (1993) and then the Miles Franklin (1995) awards for her novel, The Hand That Signed the Paper, supposedly based on her life in a Ukrainian family.

The book was exposed to be based on a totally fabricated past and Darville was denounced as a fraud.

Janaczewska’s play begins with Anna, (Lucy Beaumont) a Polish-Australian wearing Polish national dress delivering her acceptance speech for a literary prize.

What follows are scenes from her novel and, purportedly, her childhood. Ania is a child with an elaborate fantasy life. She imagines that the unusual behaviours of her harmless parents (Mike Bishop, Carole Patullo) are signs that they are Russian spies. Her mother’s benevolence to a Pole in hiding is suspicious and her father’s frequent disappearances to be treated for depression she assumes to be secret missions.

The repetition of Anna’s acceptance speech slows the play and some childhood scenes lack dramatic tension but there is intrigue created by the parents’ secretive antics. It was disappointing that Mrs. Petrov, the Australian-Russian spy of the title, played no role at all in the story.

The dramatic pay-off comes late in the play when Anna’s fraud is revealed and exotic Anna becomes plain Anne Loxton.

There are some interesting, if not compelling written notions about Anglo-Australians feeling less interesting than their migrant neighbours. There are also references to the ill treatment and alienation of post-war migrants that bear a striking resemblance to the fear and suspicion directed at recent Middle Eastern and Asian refugees.

Director, Chris Bendell, keeps the numerous short scenes moving swiftly. He uses simple staging to create a number of locations and designer, Kellee Frith, adds detail to the stark, white stage with the addition of nick-nack boxes and Polish icons.

Mike Bishop and Carole Patullo play the Polish parents with a suitable earnest and serious tone. They break hilariously into broad comedy as Anne’s “real” Yorkshire

As Anna/Ania/Anne, Jude Beaumont is credible as the naïve child and the duplicitous adult Anne. Toby Newton is versatile as Ania’s brother and his investigative journalist is very entertaining. Katie-Jean Harding is subtle as Ania’s friends.

There are flaws in this script but the themes will raise issues for discussion in the VCE students who are studying it.

By Kate Herbert

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