My Drama group are going to perform part of How Does Your Garden Grow? by Jim McNeil in a couple of weeks. I am playing the character of Sam, a prisoner who talks to himself and causes mischief amongst the police guards. He is loud and quite forward in his manner. His voice has a very confronting tone, thick with Australian connotations. He slurs his words together, e.g. “How are you going?” turns into “How yer garn?” He also swears a lot- making him a fun character to portray onstage.
I thought it would be worthwhile to get some background knowledge of McNeil himself. Born in Melbourne in 1935, he lived through war, carried his love of reading through to adulthood and had affairs with Brothel Madams. I found it interesting that he wrote his best works in Parramatta jail while serving a 17 year sentence for armed robbery.
Three months after his release in 1974 he married the actress named Robyn Nevin, who had played the only female role in the Nimrod production of How Does Your Garden Grow?. The marriage only lasted two years. His writing career reached its highest point in 1975 when How Does Your Garden Grow? won the Australian Writers' Guild award for the most outstanding script in any category. Unfortunately, it seemed that the discipline of Jail life was actually what persuaded and pushed him to write. In Jail, he needed to write, there wasn’t much else to do. When he was a free man, it seemed that his need to write wasn’t as great in the outside world. He turned to the bottle and died of alcohol poisoning in St Vincent's Hospital in 1982.
In our lecture this week we got to see how other groups brought their plays to life on stage. We saw performances of A Hard God by Peter Kenna and Coralie Lansdowne Says No by Alex Buzo.
I wasn’t really taken by Buzo’s play Coralie Lansdowne Says No. It is the story of a woman's struggle to find herself in a highly material world with its many social values. It discusses themes of emotional security and social progress. From what I saw on Wednesday, it seemed like a lot of man proposing to woman coupled with rejection, anger and swearing.
A Hard God is about the Cassidy family. They are a strictly Irish- Catholic family. Throughout the play you are able to see the different ways that religion affects the characters. I was most taken by the play’s sub- plot where the two of the younger characters named Joe and Jack develop a relationship for each other somewhat deeper than friendship. I remember Caitlin and Nicole performed the scene outside the church that perfectly illustrates a way in which the characters view religion. One seeks the comfort and forgiveness of religion to absolve his shame of the relationship while the other rejects the religion he has grown up with, because it condemns their affections. Caitlin and Nicole did a really good performance. The angst and tension of the characters was seen so obviously through their pauses, shuffling of the feet and downward glances. Nicole played Jack who tries to leave for Coffs Harbour to escape his attraction to Joe- played by Caitlin. Jack tries to say his goodbyes to Joe but Joe insists that he’ll follow, and if Jack doesn’t let him, he threatens to leave the Catholic Youth Organization. It is a heartbreaking scene of forbidden and unrequited love that almost made me want to cry!