Tag Archives: Vignettes

Stalin’s Orchard (Chris Edmund and student collaborators)



Chris Edmund (director)

Enright Studio (W.A.Academy of Performing Arts)

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Yet again, Chris Edmund has demonstrated impressively and unambiguously that, in theatrical terms, he is a master when it comes to the evocation of political terror. The prime focus here is two men with almost limitless political power and who, in different ways, have callously misruled over a great people.


Stalin's Orchard'   Photos: Jon Green c 2010


According to the printed program, Stalin’s Orchard is written by Edmund in collaboration with the cast but throughout its compulsively watchable duration Edmund’s near-flawless directorial touch is everywhere apparent.


Alas, the hoped for amelioration of the Russian people’s plight after decades of hideously cruel rule by Stalin and those who came after him until the rise of Gorbachev brought some hope to a cowed population, has not eventuated to any significant degree. Now, another cynical and ruthless politician presides over the nation with an ever-tightening hold on the Russian people who react to the current dispensation, as ever, with stoicism.


Stalin’s Orchard is a 90-minute-long, compulsively watchable series of vignettes, almost each one of which has the vivid stamp of truth. Here we watch as Stalin, that arch-cynic and mass murderer of his own people, demonstrates his appalling and complete power over the very existence of the people he rules with ruthless disregard for the civilised norms we take for granted. And the rot that has set in under Vladimir Putin is demonstrated in numbers of ways but especially in the white slave trade that enriches the few and humiliates and debases too many of the defenceless weak.


Young in years the cast may be, but each brief scene makes its point in a striking way –  and this would be largely due to Edmund’s faultless directorial touch. There are many very ugly truths in this production in a play that brings us face to face, as it were, with the terrible dilemmas that are routinely the fate of just about every Russian citizen except for those given official protection and who get away, quite literally, with murder if it suits their callous requirements.


Throughout, three crones – on stilts! – give a cackling commentary. Were these offered as a type of homage to the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth?


The only reservation was the decibel levels of Stalin’s voice which sounded uncharacteristically loud. Unlike those who came before him, for instance Lenin, whose oratorical style involved a great deal of shouting cum hectoring with extravagant arm waving and fist pounding, Stalin made a conscious decision to always talk softly in public or in broadcasts to his cowed people.


Despite the need for frequent, very rapid costume changes, the play came across with  unflagging onward momentum. There wasn’t a dull moment; it was, in fact, consistently fascinating. The players are young – they are all 2nd year acting students – yet they confidently handle what would be a very great theatrical challenge. Bravo!.


Stalin’s Orchard deserves an international audience.


The Seamstress (Geraldine Wooller)

UWA Press

The Seamstress2

227 pages: SC: rrp $24-95

reviewed by Neville Cohn

Photo GW smiling

Geraldine Wooller. Photo is by James Booth.

Miniscule victories, quiet heroism, seismic reverses, a fling at happiness, stoicism in the face of catastrophe, wretchedly few wins in life’s lottery with more than a fair share of disappointment, discouragement and tragedy.  This, in essence, is The Seamstress.

It is Geraldine Wooller’s great gift to articulate, with compassion but without sentimentality, the lives of a family which she observes with an unblinking gaze. Utterly free of sentimentality, The Seamstress is a remarkable achievement which kept  this reader glued to the turning pages. I read it in a single day and into the night.

Wooller’s language is the essence of realism; it has the indelible tinge of truth. But it

is not the sort of novel for those who like the narrative to unfold in a strictly chronological way. This is quite different. The book is made up of a series of vignettes, often painfully and disconcertingly detailed. It’s rather like a chaplet of carefully polished literary gems, each set near-perfectly.

Newspaper reports often carry the words ‘ordinary people’ and, if the characters in this novel were flesh and blood, they, too, would probably be thought of in this way. But I’m not sure if there are any such beings. Have you met an ordinary man or woman? I certainly haven’t – and they definitely don’t inhabit this book.

In The Seamstress, we find vignettes, episodes that reveal with startling, even unnerving, clarity those moments that might for years following – generations, perhaps – scar a family history. Here, they come thick and fast.

I will not reveal any of these moments in this review. It is the author’s privilege to announce these disquieting upheavals which she does with unflinching honesty of purpose. What family is without moments such as these?

Running through the story like a fine thread is a near-faultless recounting of the dismantling of a much loved mother’s mind – and the very real sense of loss, bereavement even – which occurs before there is a physical death. It is like mourning for a mind that has, to all intents and purposes, died – and it is Wooller’s great gift to articulate the grief in coming to grips with a calamity the incidence of which is multiplying with frightening rapidity as medicine finds ever new ways to keep the body alive but lags far behind in preserving the disintegrating brain and a sense of dignity.

Jo observes her mother Willa’s descent into unreality with a restraint that is masterly. In a sense, all the other inter-family upheavals are a side show to the devastating main game. In its lucidity and poignancy, Woollard’s tale calls to mind William Styron’s Darkness Visible in which he describes his real-life battle with depression.

If you read no other book this year, let it be this. It is too satisfying to overlook.