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The Chosen Vessel: Review

Australian Classical Theatre - a scene from The Chosen Vessel

John Bailey, The Sunday Age

Show of the week—4/5 stars

Barbara Baynton has only recently rated more than a footnote in the official history of Australian literature, but her short stories are as evocative of the bush life as anything Lawson or Paterson ever penned, and a good deal darker.

Under the direction of Stewart Morritt, Petty Traffikers has already explored the official canon of Australian writing… It’s encouraging to see the company set its sights on less canonical stuff, now, and the three short stories here confirm Baynton’s underrated talents.

Each of the short works delves into turbulent waters. In A Dreamer, a young pregnant woman journeying in the remote country finds nature rising up against her over a long dark night. Death and maternal self-loathing are filtered through fairytale allusions, gothic foreboding and very Australian imagery of the sinister bush at night.

Squeakers Mate is even more horrific, detailing a hard-working bush wife whose back is broken during her labours—and who thus becomes useless to her simpleton husband. The treatment she receives thereafter is startling in its indictment of a domestic abuse all too absent from nostalgic visions of colonial life.

The performance closes with The Chosen Vessel, in which a young outback mother is stalked in her home by an itinerant swagman. It’s as gripping as any contemporary thriller, and steadily ratchets up the tension to the white knuckle level…

Chloe Armstrong, especially, displays an acuity of character developed through years of working with veteran director Ariette Taylor. Margot Knight and Joe Clements both prove themselves able to render their own characters with unnerving confidence—and Knight’s chilling screams as her husband drags her broken body by one ankle are as searing and immediate an experience as live theatre is able to provide.