In1961 the pill was introduced to Australian women, I’m Gonna Knock on Your Door topped the charts and Bob Menzies was still prime minister after 12 years (with another four to go).
Like the PM, Australia’s largely anglo population still regarded England as the “home country”, with spaghetti and garlic viewed with suspicion as “foreigner” food.
Written the same year, Patrick White’s award-winning The Season at Sarsaparilla—penned as suburbia proliferated with row upon row of identical pink-brick homes on old paddocks and cleared bush—provided a savage critique of the emptiness of the great Australian dream. The “season” refers to a bitch in heat in a neighbouring street.
The sexually repressed suburb of Sarsaparilla may be fictional but it rings true: Set over three hot summer days, tensions rise and tempers flare while the air is riven by the howls of the bitch and the dogs trying to get over her.
Harbour Theatre director Peter Kirkwood has directed Australian plays including Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, The One Day of the Year and No Names No Packdrill: “I feel The Season at Sarsaparilla is another one of these great classics,” he says.
The stage setting is simple but effective, three doors off three minimalistic pastel kitchens, for three sets of anything but pastel neighbours.
Harbour stalwart Nicola Bond is perfect as Girlie Pogson. Never was a name so at odds with persona, with nothing “girlie” about the uptight wife and mother who rules her domicile with ruthless gentility.
The star characters for me were Ernie and Nola Boyles (Kenneth Gasmier and Ann Speicher). Ernie is the local night-soil man, so I’ll leave you to chew over those metaphorical implications.
I had a tear in my eye at Nola’s impassioned speech, as her husband looks set to leave after discovering her affair with his old war chum Rowley Masson (Trevor Dhu).
Ernie forgives everything for love and Gasmier conveys both hurt and love to great effect.
Dhu was fantastic as the back-stabbing mate, rewarding an old friend’s kindness in taking him in by rooting his wife. Dhu was so good I became so angry I nearly threw popcorn at him from my front row seat.
The play introduces newcomers Darcie Azzam and Paris Doick.
Azzam plays to good effect teenage Pippy Pogson, who is on the edge of discovering her sexuality and Doick is sweetly gauche as friend Deedree Inkpen.
The Season at Sarsaparilla is on at the old Cineaste cinema, next to Princess May Park from July 25 to August 3. Nightly shows start 8pm, with a 2pm matinee Sunday July 28.
Tickets $25.50 ($23.50 conc) through TAX tix on 9255 3336.
Be quick—the opening weekend was deservedly sold out.
by JENNY D’ANGER