The other week we saw a terrific theatre production of
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll
at the Belvoir Theatre in Sydney. This Australian play was first produced in November 1955 in Melbourne and made its way from Australia to London and New York under the direction of John Sumner. The play was written by Ray Lawler and was very successful over the years.It was also made into a movie.
The play is set in 1953 in Melbourne. One gets reminded what life was like in Australia in the 1950s. I think it shows especially what women’s life was like in those days. Women should never appear to be too easy going. This was what was expected of them. Unless a woman could get married, she really had no security at all.
The two women in the play had their men only for the five summer months during wich time they aimed at enjoying themselves to the utmost. The rest of the year their men worked as cane-cutters in Queensland. That went on for seventeen years. They never married. Then in the seventeenth year one of the women had just gone off to marry someone else.
So a new woman, a widow in her fortieth, comes into the game. They want to see whether she fits in so they can keep on playing the game of being absolutely happy during the summer months. Somehow it doesn’t work out because the people involved haven’t learned to take on responsibility. They just do not want to grow up. Maybe they think they can enjoy themselves like that for ever and ever. They never seem to want to grow older. The five months spent together have just become a habit. They are under the delusion that this makes them happy.
Stressful situations like this still exist if partners have to work in different occupations in different countries for part of the year. So I think the play has still relevance today!
We were lucky enough to be at a debriefing last Sunday with the playwright Ray Lawler. He is in his nineties now and a dear old gentleman. He told us much about his life. He started work in a factory at age fourteen. He did the factory work for eleven years. When he started writing, he went to the Melbourne Public Library which opened at 10 in the morning and closed at 10 o’clock at night. It was quiet there, in winter warm and cool enough in summer. He counted himself to be very fortunate that he was able to write in a place like that.
For the said production Belvoir Theatre Company cut a window into the outside wall of the theatre so that proper lighting could fall onto the stage through this window. That gave the audience the illusion that it was outside either daytime or night-time.
In the photo the two lamps are covered. The lamps are being used for lighting effects durings evening performances.