Wherever you look there’s something happening in Australian playwright Oriel Gray’s neglected classic THE TORRENTS. The play is set in a community newspaper called the Argus in the 1890’s in Koolgalla. The newspaper is run with an iron will by Rufus Torrent.
A new journalist JG Milford comes through the door. Rufus was expecting a young man and is taken aback when a young woman, Jenny Milford, walks through the door. Rufus wants her to leave but Jenny says she isn’t going anywhere. Will Jenny survive Rufus’s wrath, and the boys only culture at the Argus?!
Rufus not only has to cope with a headstrong young woman on staff but also with the protestations of Kingsley who wants the paper to get behind his scheme to make Koolgalla more economically sustainable with an eye to agriculture to give it a better chance to survive now that the gold mining is petering out. Rufus’ hands are tied. A mining magnate John Mason gives the paper a lot of financial support and without his money the paper might fold. Mason refuses to see any future for Koolgalla that doesn’t involve gold mining.
Then there’s the relationship between Rufus and his son Ben who also works on the paper. Ben is getting pressured to get married and settle down. Will Ben marry Gwyne as expected though he knows he doesn’t love her? And will Ben start standing up to his father and make his own way in the world?
It was engrossing watching these plot lines play out. Director Clara Watson keeps the action flowing well and wins good performances from her cast.
Celia Pacquola plays the very wilful, independently minded journalist, Jenny Milford.
Tony Cogin plays good natured but gruff newspaper editor Rufus Torrent who would like to keep everybody happy but knows he can’t.
Steve Rodgers is very credible as the blustery, pushy, manipulative mining magnate John Mason.
Geoff Kelso plays the office gossip Christy who always has one too many stories to tell.
Gareth Davies plays Ben Torrent who is having a crisis trying to get out from under his father’s shadow and stand his own two feet. In one of the play’s funniest scenes Ben comes back from the pub very drunk, alcohol being an outlet for all the pressure he feels.
Sam Longley plays long time staffer Jock McDonald who tries to help cadet journo Bernie well played by Rob Johnson.
Luke Carroll is very strong as Kingsley who is pushing for change before disaster happens when the gold mining has finished in the town, and there’s nothing left to replace it with.
Emily Rose Brennan plays Gwyne, a conservative, repressed young woman, who is shocked and inspired by how well Jenny is coping at the Argus. Seeing this gives her some ideas of her own.
Renee Mulder’s design is a period set of a newsroom with the editor’s office upstairs and the typesetting taking place in the back room. Far stage right and left are bundles of newspapers stacked up. Mulder’s costumes are all of the Edwardian period with the women dressed very conservatively.
Lucy Birkinshaw lit the stage well and Joe Paradise Lui’s bridging music between scenes features plenty of country guitar.
There’s a bit of a Chekhov ‘The Cherry Orchard’ feel to this play as the characters struggle to deal with the powerful forces of change.
Recommended, A co-production of the Sydney Theatre Company with Black Swan State Theatre Company, Oriel Gray’s THE TORRENTS opened at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House on Saturday 20th July and is playing until Saturday 24th August.
Featured image – Tony Cogin and Celia Pacquola in Oriel Gray’s The Torrents at the Drama Theatre. Production photo by Philip Gostelow.