The Drover’s Wife
This ingenious adaptation captures the humour, steel and pathos of these great Australian characters in a beautifully crafted, poetic realization which premiered at the Castlemaine State Festival before enjoying a Victoria wide tour and seasons in Melbourne.
These two short stories, about ordinary people battling to live off the land, anchor Lawson’s literary reputation.
The Drover’s Wife
On guard against a deadly snake, the drover’s wife remembers experiences from her past—dramatic flashbacks—which are brought vividly to life by the ensemble company.
Isolated from any sign of civilisation, she battles bushfire, flood and even a mad bullock! Her instinct to protect her children in the absence of the drover father, and determination not to capitulate, makes this a moving, uniquely Australian story of courage, joy and survival.
The Bush Undertaker
Henry Lawson, writing at his desk, transforms into the old man of the title, journeying through a land of living dead.
With only his dog Five Bob as company, he digs up an old grave, collects the bones and discovers the corpse of his good friend Brummy. How can he give his mate a proper burial in this godforsaken part, and why are the goannas flocking?
The Drover’s Wife premiered at the Phee Broadway Theatre in Castlemaine as part of the Castlemaine Festival on April 3rd, 2005. It went on to play a season at fortyfivedownstairs in Melbourne, and was filmed and shown on ABC TV’s Stateline program. In 2006 it toured extensively across Victoria over seven weeks to 25 venues. It was included on the VCAA playlist for VCE Drama and enjoyed a return season at the Carlton Courthouse at La Mama.
This production was an attempt by the company to realize an initial ambition to present two stories from the same pen using diverse theatrical styles. In The Bush Undertaker, we establish the writer Henry Lawson and the transformation of the writer into his character. Keeping the desk as a permanent presence allows the shift from one world to another—from reality to fiction. The seed form for the narrative is taken from the Japanese theatre, having two characters dressed in black, supporting the journey of the central character by adopting whatever persona, or producing whatever prop, is needed—at times almost imperceptible yet always complicit.
For The Drover’s Wife, the brief was a simple one: to bring narrative prose vividly to life, to take it from the page to the stage. The work soon progressed from the initial division of lines and choral speaking to an examination of changing perspective and shifting tense. We discovered devices whereby the wife tells her own story in the third person and created dialogue from monologue. All underpinned with a suitable physical action, sometimes dance-like, often very still, but always employed to drive he story forward.
Reviews & Interviews
Chris Boyd, The Herald Sun
Like all of us, I’m a sucker for a good story, and sometimes the most basic meat and potatoes theatre is like the best lamb roast (or eggplant parmigiana) you’ve ever tucked into.
This show is a good old fashioned feast. And I can’t think of a single reason why I shouldn’t use the P word. Yes, it’s Perfect. All you get is a pair of short stories from Henry Lawson, recited and brought to fleshy, magical life by a trio of actors, a musician, some recorded harmonica, some costumes, props and lighting…
Grant Mouldey is an absolute delight as the drover’s dog and as a great, greasy, black goanna. His physical skills are remarkarble. Anastasia Malinoff is pitch perfect as the uncomplaining, courageous wife. Do not miss this show. Seriously.
Helen Thomson, The Age
An ingenious adaptation of an Australian bush classic.
It is a tricky business adapting prose short stories to dramatic performance, and Australian Classical Theatre has discovered some ingenious solutions… Anastasia Malinoff as the wife gives a sympathetic and wry edge to the character, exactly in keeping with the original…
Director Stewart Morritt has partly choreographed the grinding monotonous domestic tasks that govcern her life. The drama of the snake’s appearance, the threatening appearance of a swagman, the floods and fire that threaten the house, are dramatised very effectively by the trio of actors…
In The Bush Undertaker, Ernie Gray as the shepherd has the appropriate touch of eccentricity, and Mouldy steals the show as the dog Five Bob with a depiction of intelligence, loyalty and comical canine affection.
John Gunn, Radio 3CR
A couple of years back we were captivated by a wondeful production of The Sentimental Bloke, by a new independent theatre company Petty traffikers with Stewart Morritt at the helm. Well, this time they have taken two Henry Lawson short stories and vividly animated the two characters in each…
What to me is so special about this production is that the company has lifted these stories off the page, allowing us to understand the hardship, the quirky qualities if these people and the often unforgiving times they had to endure. We can almost smell the dry grass and feel the isolation, and the heat and dust of the Australian bush…
The Drover’s Wife is beautifully and lyrically acted out by Anastasia Malinoff. Grant Mouldey as the dog in both stories and the goanna was totally believable in these energetic guises…
This double bill brings these stories to life, and is beautifully directed with passion and understanding by Stewart Morritt. These are not dry poetry readings, but carefully choreographed and fleshed out tales that are so inventive, with their expressive business and body language, which brings out the pathos and humour in the lives of the characters.
These tales, whilst maintaining their literary qualities, have developed the flesh and blood dimensions to become a very accesible, lively and entertaining theatrical piece.
Interview with Kathy Bowlen, ABC TV’s Stateline
Kathy Bowlen: As production companies go, Petty Traffikers is about as lean as you can get. It’s a sparseness which is matched by the landscapes Henry Lawson wrote about and the dialogue the actors deliver. Petty Traffikers are performing The Bush Undertaker and The Drover’s Wife, and every word spoken was written by Lawson, all in the third person. Artistic director, Stewart Morritt, says Lawson’s writing is up there with the best.
Stewart Morritt: Absolutely up there. I reckon Lawson’s short stories are as good as James Joyce’s and certainly D.H. Lawrence. That’s where they fit with me…
Review: Colac Otway Shire Council
COPACC Manager Karen Patterson said The Drover’s Wife and the Bush Undertaker were stories about ordinary people struggling to live off the land.
‘This play is a beautifully crafted, highly visual piece of ensemble theatre,’ Ms Patterson said…
‘Petty Traffikers’ productions are completely true to Lawson and follow every word penned by the Bard of the Bush.’
Interview with ABC TV's Stateline
An interview with ABC TV's Stateline program, back when we were known as Petty Traffikers.