Your K.S. 43: Katharine Susannah and the Theatre
- Picture: playbill for Australian Drama Night, 1910 (University of New England).
It’s apt that KSPWC will be commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Katharine Susannah Prichard’s death with Louise Helfgott’s play, Potchnagoola. Katharine loved drama. As a child, Katharine staged her own production of William Tell with her cousins and siblings. As a governess in Yarram in 1904, she had the lead role of Sweet Lavender in the light-hearted romantic comedy produced in the Mechanic’s Hall on Race Day. Her first major play was called The Burglar and was produced for the Australian Drama Night in 1910. In it, a young woman disturbs a burglar in her bedroom and gives him long speeches about socialism and her hopes for a better world. Katharine was to write many more plays over the years, although the only other ones which were produced were propaganda plays for different causes. These included a suffragette play she wrote in London just before World War One, and the play Penalty Clause she wrote for the cause of communism in 1940.
Her best play, Brumby Innes, is about a station owner who exploits Aboriginal women. It won the New Triad play competition in 1927 and was meant to be produced, but proved either too difficult or too controversial. If it was ahead of its time on Aboriginal issues in the 1920s, today it is problematic for its stereotypes of Aboriginal people.
The late playwright John Joseph Jones remembers that, in the spring of 1969, two weeks before her death, some friends of Katharine’s brought her to see him at the Parkerville Amphitheatre, then nearing completion. He writes: The bushland surrounding the playing areas was bright with her beloved wildflowers … [A]s we stood there together on the main stage in the bowl of the amphitheatre Katharine turned and said with some emotion, “I want you to put Brumby [Innes] on here. It’s never been done and this is where it should be done.” I’m yet to discover whether the play was ever produced at the amphitheatre but it was finally produced for the time in 1972 at Melbourne’s Pram Factory, and it was even televised the next year, making it one of four film or television adaptations of Katharine’s work.
Completing Katharine’s connections to drama, her son, Ric Throssell, became an accomplished playwright, with many of his plays produced over his lifetime.
- More on Katharine at Nathan’s blog at https://nathanhobby.com.