THE PYJAMA GIRL @ FIVE BARRELL BREWING, THE GONG

This is the second full, new musical by South Coast creative Stephen Goldrick, in as many years. The first, Anvil, was set in nineteenth century colonial times, while this one is firmly based on twentieth century Albury and Sydney. It is based on a 1930’s iconic Australian crime narrative, when a young woman, found dead and in pyjamas in a country creek, was placed in a tank of preserving fluid to aided public inspection and recognition. So why weren’t photographs used? No need to ask – truth is stranger than fiction.

The strategy failed, and conviction only followed the confession of the woman’s husband. Tony Agostini (Alexander Cuff) The musical elaborates this confession in the interests of good theatre – indeed the whole show acquits its narrative very well. Emma Price was refined as the Pyjama Girl – her alto voice delivered some nuanced singing, whose lyrics took opportunity of the role she played for half the show, and that was of a dead person! Louie Cuff played multiple cameos, queued by a bell on the head, from the life of the Girl before death, and the trial that followed. Sophie Hanley was most assured in as Moya Stanton – it is good to see an artist following on from the Anvil show. Zac Chadwick was also in control of there of the wandering, devious priest Father O’Brien. Stephen Goldrick was quite au fait and adroit as Commissioner Mackay, and helped drive comedy through Gilbert and Sullivan type ensemble antics. In addition to writing the long and complicated script, he also coordinate direction and staging in what no doubt were the limited resources of a pro am group. It does appear the writing was a step more nuanced than the previous show – or at least the writer able to adapt to particular theatrical opportunities in this one.

The sense of theatrical opportunity was strong in this work, coming from the creative decision to characterise a deceased person, and then place her in a transparent stage tank of water. The sight of a wet, scarred, be straggled was played with much dignity and skill by Emma Price, so much so that one wonders why this main theatrical strategy of the show was revealed immediately at the beginning. Why not tell of life beforehand in the First Act, exploiting the comedic elements, then allow the more Brechtian and lyrical music fill the second?

The staging of a well lit tank on a full stage at the very beginning of Act Two would be un coup d’État théâtral. As it was this showcase production was staged in a craft brewery near Wollongong CBD. The surrounding brewing machinery added a certain visual synchrony to the mechanised form of police investigation, and the meal and ticket deal was very reasonably priced.

Steve Wood did a great job in a very busy and diverse field of composition. Where or not the First Act was a little too busy can be discussed. His work is delightful, and any small thoughts on sequencing can contribute to its further delight. 

Full marks to all involved for commitment to a new work of such promise.

I saw the performance which took place on the 31 May 2021.

Production photography by Tracey Leigh

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