A legend among Australian writers, Dorothy Hewett led an interesting life. Raised on a sheep station, educated in an Anglican school, married three times and a member of the Australian Communist Party in the climate of the Cold War, her life and views are exposed in her 1972 play The Chapel Perilous.
Now brought to life at The New Theatre, the play charts the life of the rebellious Sally Banner (Christensen) through high school, marriage, childbirth, affairs and politics. The play focuses on her adventure of self-discovery, in spite of how society, her friends, lovers and family constantly strive to define her.
Julia Christensen is outstanding in the lead role. She is dynamic, engaging and emotionally powerful as the empowered, sexual, deeply flawed and frantically complicated character. Tom Matthews, performing as Banner’s numerous love interests, is also brilliant. The set design and lighting (by Kyle Jonsson and Martin Kinnane respectively) is dark and sober, capturing Banner’s anarchic internal landscape.
There’s a lot going on in this play. While relating everything to Banner’s life, Hewett flirts with concepts as varied as communism, sexual empowerment, religious indoctrination, marriage, divorce, suicide, depression and PTSD and war. The play is cautionary, warning its viewers that to define yourself or try to find internal comfort from the outside – from lovers or society – can destroy your very individuality. As someone who has been raised in the age of information, I was particularly interested in this production’s portrayal of how war reflected upon society and how we as both an Australian community and as individuals defined ourselves in the insane unpredictability of World War II and the Cold War.
Regularly poetic and complex, this dialogue-heavy play does require a deep level of engagement from the audience, and therefore won’t be everyone’s cut of tea. Furthermore, Hewett’s humour is complicated and dark and its intense cynicism and dryness makes it difficult to perform. However, if you’re the theatre-goer who enjoys deep thought and introspection, you’re bound to enjoy the production.
The Chapel Perilous is powerful and melancholic, every bit as tragic and erratic as the woman who wrote it.
The Chapel Perilous runs at the New Theatre until the 27th of May. More information and tickets can be found at : http://newtheatre.org.au/season-2017/the-chapel-perilous/
Cast: Julia Christensen, Tom Matthews, Meg Clarke, Brett Heath, Alison Chambers, Courtney Bell, Jasper Garner-Gore, Madelaine Osborn, James Wright
Creative Team: Dorothy Hewitt (Playwright), Carissa Licciardello (Director), Kyle Jonsson (Production Designer), Martin Kinnane (Lighting Designer), Courtney
Westbrook (Costume Designer), Clemence Williams (Sound Designer), Alexander Lee-Rekers (Musical Director), Eve Beck (Assistant Director), Ella Butler (Assistant Production Designer), Shushannah Anderson (Stage Manager).
Above image by Bob Seary