Drawing from the wide-ranging conversations with Dorothy Hewett’s key collaborators, including; Aarne Neeme, Aubrey Mellor, Richard Roberts, Wesley Enoch, Shaun Gurton, and Rodney Fisher, who each offer appraisals of Hewett’s work as well as wider trends in Australian theatre, the conclusion follows the pathways of Hewett’s drama. It shows the dissonance between conventional representation of her plays and the alternative representations that emerge from production histories. The conclusion proposes that a passive engagement with Australian theatre history has diminished a shared understanding of her drama. Moreover, the lives of plays should be understood and incorporated into the narrative of Australia’s theatre, and ongoing research demands a positive and dialogic narrative for both Hewett’s drama and the wider account of Australia’s theatre history.
Hewett’s status as a controversial feminist writer has affected the representation of her plays in the 1970s. A reflection on The Chapel Perilous emphasises its stylistic departure from This Old Man Comes Rolling Home. An expressionistic drama, externalising the life of Sally Banner as an unconventional woman and artist, The Chapel also parallels Hewett’s own life experiences, and her changing relationship to feminist discourse. The chapter seeks to disentangle the play text from these two visions, so that two of its productions can be re-examined. The play’s 1971 production, staged on the Elizabethan-style New Fortune Theatre in Perth, was artistically successful, whereas the 1974 production in the Drama Theatre in the Sydney Opera House was problematic. The dramaturgical difference in this period, which emerged from her relationship to the open stage, has been overlooked. Instead, overemphasising controversies associated with production has shaped a shared understanding of Hewett’s drama in the 1970s.
With a focus on Dorothy Hewett’s biographical contexts, and how key ideas from Memory Studies, primarily cultural memory, surface in the narrative of Australian theatre, this chapter is directed at those unfamiliar with Hewett or the history of Australian theatre. The chapter acts as a springboard to examine the production histories of Hewett’s drama between 1967 and 2009.
Reflecting on changing theatre culture in Australia in the 1990s, it becomes clear that Dorothy Hewett was beginning to be excluded. Hewett’s final play Nowhere is explored to consider her drama’s ongoing significance in the new millennium. The chapter proposes that Nowhere responded specifically to the impact of the History Wars and the Howard Government. It weaves textual analysis with a discussion of the political atmosphere and describes how the critical responses to this play were shaped by either a positive or negative view of Hewett. A pre-emptive reception suggested that, in spite of Hewett’s efforts, her status was fixed and so too were responses to new Australian work. Nowhere shows that despite Hewett’s clear engagement with the contemporary moment, reviewers’ engagement with her drama seized up in an unhelpful way.
Dorothy Hewett’s status and persona intersect with feminist scholarship and narratives of Australia’s theatre. Complicated further by Kate and Rozanna Lilley’s testimony of their sexual abuse as children, the introduction outlines an interest in production and reception of Hewett’s drama that is shaped by modes of remembrance (Erll 2011: 104). Drawing on cultural memory, the introduction outlines how a dominant memory of Hewett calls for a re-investigation of her plays.
This chapter ruminates on Dorothy Hewett’s commission for The Jarrabin Trilogy. The impact of shrinking economic and cultural resources are contextualised by exploring the significance of the work personally and artistically, and the changing theatrical landscape. The chapter reflects on a period of few productions for Hewett, and significant changes in Australia’s theatre. Hewett’s difficult position in the 1990s and an extended and ultimately demoralising development period contributed to Hewett’s decision to stop writing drama. By building on Ghassan Hage’s notion of “national worrying” and a reflection on Jarrabin’s adaptation for NIDA students, the negative impact of both cultural and economic forces that correlates with Jarrabin’s development reveals a diminishing imaginative space that could not accommodate Hewett’s idiosyncrasies. A discussion of the extant play, which offers ways to break mythologising aspects of Australia’s history, presents a proposal to re-engage with such a work.
The play text of This Old Man Comes Rolling Home is unpacked to argue that as the Dockerty family responds to a changing Redfern, Dorothy Hewett also directs the audience’s attention to changes taking place in Australian society. Further dissonances between the play text and the representation of the play are examined by unpacking its early productions in 1967, at the University of Western Australia, and in 1968 as part of The Old Tote’s season of Australian Plays. The chapter closes by exploring the 1990 production of This Old Man with Melbourne Theatre Company. By that time Hewett’s status had changed and so did the reception of her drama. Despite a successful new production directed by Gale Edwards in 1990, This Old Man has been stubbornly disregarded in the story of Hewett’s drama as an unsuccessful first attempt (Kiernan 1987: 278). Closer examination of the premiere in 1967, second production in 1968 and a new production in 1990, enriches an understanding of This Old Man and provokes a revaluation of Hewett’s oeuvre.