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WHEN the late Canberra theatre director Ralph Wilson put on a short season of Patrick White plays some years ago, unexpected hordes turned up to see works by our own Nobel Laureate.
Staff at the Canberra Theatre hope it’s going to be much the same when “The Aspirations of Daise Morrow” takes over The Playhouse stage early in May.
It’s a stage adaptation of White’s “Down at the Dump”, which appeared in his early book of stories dedicated to “the burnt ones (the poor unfortunates).”
This will be a production with a difference, as “CityNews” found when we called veteran actor Paul Blackwell, who plays the “older-man” role in the show.
Blackwell has been with the production since it began in 2015.
This revival, he says, kick-starts in Canberra, goes on to Wollongong and then to the Galway and Edinburgh festivals.
Set entirely on the stage of The Playhouse with actors and audience in close proximity, the viewers are seated in concentric circles, and members of Adelaide’s charismatic Zephyr Quartet – Hilary Kleinig, Jason Thomas, Emily Tulloch and Belinda – as another “character”, will be planted in their midst.
Zephyr has been with the show from the outset and provides what is touted as a haunting score, so haunting that the Canberra International Music Festival has slotted the production into its season here.
“It’s all set under a big white canopy that supports the lighting design and brings everyone in together to witness and be part of it… having the audience on the stage is more intimate,” Blackwell enthuses.
“The audience will get to be people at the funeral – it’s all about a funeral,” he says, recollecting that White also worked that territory over in “The Aunt’s Story” and “The Ham Funeral”.
Blackwell is an unabashed Patrick White fan and reads me an extract from “Riders in the Chariot” which, like “Down at the Dump”, is set around the fictional suburbs of Barranugli and Sarsaparilla, pretty much Castle Hill, where White lived for a long time.
“It’s Daise’s funeral and she’s described as a woman who finds love where she can get it and gives it where it’s needed,” he explains.
“The story concerns the Hogbens and the Whalleys, the rag-and-bone people who live opposite and who don’t give anything about the social graces.”
Daise’s sister is the respectable Myrtle Hogben – Blackwell gets to play her part and loves the role – who looks down on the Whalleys, but they’re all pulled together by the funeral and, as Drummond says, the story is “a paean to courage, to reaching, to yearning and to the ache for something bigger”.
Blackwell is intrigued by the fact that “Daise Morrow” is not a play at all.
“We tell the story as it is written with some minor additions and we all speak different roles,” he says.
Blackwell plays Myrtle (“That’s a lot of fun,” he says) and Wal Whalley; Genevieve Picot plays Les Hogben and Mrs Whalley; James Smith and Lucy Lehman play the young “Romeo and Juliet” roles of Lummy Whalley and Meg Hogben, while Lehman gets to play Daise, too.”
“The Aspirations of Daise Morrow, ,The Playhouse, May 1-5. Bookings to canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 6275 2700.