Drama students revive forgotten play

31 May 2016

University of Queensland drama students will bring a new lease of life to a classic 1940s Australian play that was last performed more than 50 years ago.

Revived for a modern audience, The First Joanna by the late Dorothy Blewett will open on Wednesday at UQ’s Geoffrey Rush Drama Studio as part of the 50thanniversary celebrations of drama at UQ.

Researchers and students are looking forward to seeing the classic performed, and Ms Blewett’s family are travelling from Melbourne to attend the event.

Chosen by UQ senior lecturer and award-winning playwright Dr Stephen Carleton, the performance is the result of a partnership with AustLit (the Australian Literature Resource), the Ian Potter Foundation andPlaylab Press.

Dr Carleton said he hoped the project would revive an interest in the play, and other classic theatre works, for a whole new generation of readers, producers, actors, and students of Australian theatre.

“UQ drama students study Australian theatre history, playwriting and dramaturgy, among other things, which makes them ideally situated to conduct research into the performance histories and biographies of ‘lost’ plays and playwrights like The First Joanna and Dorothy Blewett,” Dr Carleton said.

“Our students are trained primarily as researchers and historians, and bringing a work from the page to the stage in a live performance such as this is an extension of that core business.”

The students worked with renowned Queensland theatre practitioner and former artistic director of La Boite Theatre Sue Rider to bring the forgotten classic to the stage.

Director of AustLit Kerry Kilner said she was delighted to be involved in bringing the play back to life and unearthing other forgotten plays from the first half of the 20th century.

“This is a gem of a play with great female characters and interesting ways of exploring the effects of war-related trauma, murder, hidden secrets of the past, and the healing power of abiding love,” Ms Kilner said.

Set in South Australia post World War II, the play reveals the homecoming of the ‘second Joanna’, which is soured by the close-knit and guarded Deveron family.

Feeling as if she cannot connect with the present, Joanna turns to the past to reveal the skeletons in the Deveron family’s closet.

The First Joanna will run from 1 – 4 June 2016. Bookings can be made via Facebook or phone (07) 3365 2552.  

Media: AustLit Director Kerry Kilner, k.kilner@uq.edu.au0402 454 120; UQ Senior Lecturer Dr Stephen Carleton, s.carleton@uq.edu.au