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The Shoe-Horn Sonata


Mackay audiences have a golden opportunity to experience good theatre over the next two weeks: good theatre demands passion from both the playwright and the performers. Kucom's presentation of John Misto's The Shoe-Horn Sonata achieves just this. It should be greeted by a fanfare of trumpets.

Misto reveals the degradation of nurses and civilians kept in captivity by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore. For the older members of the audience there was an instant recall of life in that period. For the younger ones, it was a shocking revelation of things not spoken or known about. Misto's research for this play from actual survivors is thorough and meticulous, 'every incident they (Bridie and Sheila) describe is true and occurred between 1942 and 1995', he writes.

Bronwyn Grannall chose the play and devoted hours of research in compiling the visuals displayed throughout the action, which become more than a backdrop: they are irrefutable evidence, even revealing themselves at times as the streams of consciousness of the women sitting in the TV studio. The music of the period forms an integral part of the script and Kristyn Everett keeps these audiovisual effects flowing.

The contrapuntal setting of the stage is masterful. Bridie and Sheila are able to move seamlessly from the TV studio to Sheila's motel room. The intimacy of the stage draws the audience into the very hearts and emotions of the survivors who face each other after an inexplicable gap of fifty years. Tears roll with theirs: it is an amazing, humbling experience.

Strangely enough, it is Bronwyn Grannall's character Bridie which is transformed during the play. Bridie befriends 15-year-old Sheila as they struggle in the sea after the bombing of their ships. The intimacy, the intensity of their platonic relationship is undeniably the secret of their survival. When they are together they are a closely knitted whole. Tessa King as Sheila and Grannall as Bridie reach a high level of performance which can only be gained through the losing of oneself in the role played. Their fine tuning to each other's needs on the stage comes through intense personal understanding and growth in their roles, strong direction and constant rehearsal.

Jim Kelly's voice over as Rick, the TV interview, is gently probing. At times he is astounded, even incredulous at their answers. He never imposes or distracts from the main protagonists, but is a wonderful vehicle for revealing Misto's disgust at Australians' ignorance due to political and military censorship.

As the title proclaims, music threads it way throughout. This is when the soul can find respite from the physical pain of starvation and abuse. However, the shoe-horn, the metronome, becomes the object of denouement.

The Australian flavour is unmistakable, the subtle shades of humour which highlight the pathos and the laconic understatement which typifies our drama and brings such delight to our listeners.

Such a complex play, dealing with so much passion and controversy, needs skilful, sensitive direction, and Heather MacTavish was superbly able to bring all the threads together. No mean task. The delicate issues, the piognancy and the power of women facing man's inhumanity are all found in this drama, and make it the 'memorial' that John Misto could not build, but has created. No Australian should miss this.

Review by Enid Forsyth





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