Holden Street Theatres
Until 18 Mar 2018

Review by John Wells

It seemed fitting to sit down and watch a new play about the South Australian suffragette Muriel Matters on the eve of International Women’s Day. Matters was an Adelaide born performer, elocutionist, teacher and agitator for the right of women to vote.

At the heart of this show is a faultless performance by Joanne Hartstone. There is great immediacy, vigour and nuance in this wonderful portrayal. Hartstone brings the text to life with an unambiguously skilled and enthralling representation.

The artistic collaboration succeeds admirably. Tom Kitney’s production design is simple but evocative of the period. He creates a nostalgic atmosphere with antique set dressing, projected newsreel-type announcements and well-chosen music. Nicholas Collett’s direction is pacy and has great forward momentum. His stagecraft and clever use of the set shows imaginative flair. Hartstone is beautifully dressed in frocks by Nikki Fort.

Despite the undoubted strengths of this production, the story is a little dull. The inherent weakness in a biographical show is that you are limited by the biography. Much of Matters’ life does not make for engrossing theatre. Her time in England at the pointy end of the suffrage movement is fascinating, but the rest of her story is much less enthralling. Hartstone’s writing is strong and entertaining (with some subtle reflections on today’s political and social issues), but this show does not have broad appeal. History lovers and those interested in the development of democracy or women’s rights will find this to be an absorbing show.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)