‘All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?’
Patrick White’s classic play A CHEERY SOUL is the Sydney Theatre Company current production at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House. White has described this play, set in 1963 in the make believe suburb of Sarsparilla as ‘exploring the destructive power of good’.
Sarah Peirse is versatile but seamless as the ever cheerful but dreaded Miss Docker with her obsessive, clumsy acts of Christian kindness. Her mania to do incessant good irritates all and sundry. At the start of the play she is forced to leave home and must rely on the charity of those who know her. Mr and Mrs Custance welcome her into their home but she soon grates on their nerves. One scene has her making a humble cup of tea turn into a kitchen tornado experience. She spills three teaspoons of sugar, loose tea leaves and milk, and then offers to clean things up but actually doesn’t do it leaving Mrs Custance to clean up the mess, In the end, Mr and Mrs Custance ask her to leave because she is unbearable to live with.
In her main role Anita Hegh is wonderful as the very conservative, saccharine, nervy Mrs Constance. Anthony Taufa, in his primary role, is her gruff, set upon husband.
Miss Docker’s next stop is the Sundown Home for Old People- a very depressing nursing home. The patients have their cliques and Miss Docker’s reputation precedes her. She tries to ingratiate herself with one of the main women there, a Mrs Lillie, well played by Tara Morice, whose husband has recently died. Mrs Lillie wants very little to do with Miss Docker, which is further indicated at her husband’s funeral. Miss Docker steps out of the car for a brief time, and what follows is that the funeral car leaves her behind and she has to walk wearily home alone.
Miss Docker continues in her search to find somewhere to belong. She tries next with the local church and its Rector Reverend Wakeman, well played by Brandon McClelland. The Reverend is so unimpressed by her that when she rings up the Rectory and his wife answers he pretends he isn’t there. Miss Docker doesn’t take no for an answer however, and ends up going to the Rectory to do chores for the Reverend. Out comes the lawnmower and Miss Docker mows away- hard at work. The Reverend can’t quite believe what he is seeing. Miss Docker is a force of nature!
Things get worse at the church service. Reverend Wakeman is delivering his sermon and Miss Docker keeps on interjecting, saying that his sermon is not correct according to the Bible. Everywhere Miss Docker goes, she manages to make people feel ill at ease.
Whilst the play’s subject is serious, the tone of the night is sometime humorous as we can’t help but laugh at Miss Docker’s increasingly incredulous, over-zealous behaviour.
Kip Williams production is, relatively speaking, large scale. A large revolve- set design by Elizabeth Gadsby– is used very functionally.. Williams loves to use filmic sequences- video design by Mark Bergman. The play starts off with a naturalistic scene but becomes increasingly surreal as Miss Docker’s past and present life merge. These filmic sequences help to convey thisl tone.
Clarence Williams score is suitably atmospheric. Nick Schlieper’s lighting design is memorable, especially in the closing scenes.
This is one cheery soul who doesn’t cheer up her companions! A CHEERY SOUL is playing the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House until 15 December, 2018.