Wednesday, 1 August 2007
The Chapel Perilous by Dorothy Hewett, Aug 1, 2007
The Chapel Perilous by Dorothy Hewett
Where and When: La Mama Wed & Sun 6.30pm, Thurs to Sat 8pm until Aug 1 to 1, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 1 2007
Dorothy Hewett’s 1972 play, The Chapel Perilous, was dangerously autobiographical.
Hewett lived the abandoned life of her character, Sally Banner, a young woman who craved sexual, social, political and literary liberation but who had the misfortune to be born into a generation that did not allow any of it.
Her play is as fractious and fractured as was the playwright. Sally Banner (Zoe Ellerton-Ashley) is a deliciously naughty teenager in 1930s Western Australia. She flouts all convention at her Anglican boarding school by professing love for another girl, threatening to jump from the balcony, meeting and kissing boys outside the gates and refusing to bow to authority.
At school her teachers say, “I cannot bear that much individuality.” At university she is known as a trollop, the university “bike”. Sally is a rebellious, talented and maddening child who grows into a promiscuous, unreliable, slightly unbalanced literary light.
The script itself is equally infuriating. It switches styles wilfully, hurling itself from vaudeville and parody to direct address and Brechtian political commentary. It shifts between songs, both holy and profane, and occasionally lights upon dramatic and naturalistic interactions that penetrate Sally’s melancholy inner life.
Hewett’s writing is often didactic, particularly when her/Sally’s life reaches the period when she flirted with Communism. In other scenes, Hewett employs more lyrical language reminiscent of her poetry. Despite its rough edges and flighty form, The Chapel Perilous is an enjoyable ride, a journey through the mind and daily grind of this outrageous, insecure and demanding egoistic.
Suzanne Chaundy directing a cast of six in multiple roles and a musician (Carolyn Connors), manages with some contortions to fit this epic tale into the tiny space of La Mama. Ellerton-Ashley is a sensuous and compelling Sally as she flits from lover to husband and school to soapbox. Grant Cartwright is capable as her fickle first lover, Michael and Matt Crosby is versatile as the creepy school chaplain, David the doting but celibate suitor and Saul, Sally’s feisty Jewish Socialist mentor. Jane Bayly, Carmelina di Guglielmo and Glenn Perry enliven numerous roles as teachers, lovers, nuns and others.
A biography does not necessarily have a dramatic structure so The Chapel Perilous is at times unwieldy and meandering, just like a life. Nonetheless it is cheering to see this Australian classic play on stage.
By Kate Herbert