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  • Fiona Prior

Ladies in Black

Ladies in Black

A Genesian Theatre Company Production

from the novel ‘Women in Black’ by Madeleine St John

Stage and book adaption by Carolyn Burns

Directed by Debbie Smith

Music and Lyrics by Tim Finn

What I truly love about this charming musical ‘Ladies in Black’, based on the novel by Madeleine St John, is that while the book is based on a short period of the life of our young heroine Lisa/Lesley Miles (Rosanna Hurley), the story personifies the social change that occurred in 1950’s Australia.

Lisa is a bright young bookworm from Enfield who is blessed with a loving family, a mother who is aspirational for her ‘brilliant’ daughter, and a dream to become a poet via a Sydney University degree in Literature.

The eponymous ‘Ladies in Black’ are the fabulous women of whom Lisa finds herself surrounded in her retail holiday job at 'Goodes' (think David Jones).There is Fay (Liberty Thirsk), an x-dancer, who is embarrassed by a past out-of-marriage relationship and who is now looking for true love. Unfortunately, Fay receives gropes in bars for her troubles. There is married Patty (Elizabeth Macgregor), whose innocent husband doesn’t quite understand how babies are made ... and then there is the sophisticated ‘Continental’ Hungarian refugee Magda (Sonia Allan), who reveals to Leslie a far larger world than the one from which she comes.

Having seen Bruce Beresford’s film 'Ladies in Black’ last year, I was keen to see the musical version. I must admit that while the sound quality of this amateur theatre production had some technical issues, the musical format was far more fitting to the brightness of this tale of social change.

Quite obviously, all these young women need happy endings and she who originally wielded the pen (Madeleine St John), was intent on delivering.

Obstacle one is Lisa’s loving dad (‘Mr Miles’ played by Robert Green). Dad feels that university will be a waste of money, filling his girl’s head with ‘Communism’ and other silly ideas. A little bit of personal transformation – via an evening frock and some worldly influence – allows Lisa to see an alternative future for herself and this gained confidence and widened perspective eventually sway ‘dad’. Mr Miles finally understands that that he is not losing his little girl but opening a door to welcome the elegant and clever young women she has become.

Next we have the romantic Fay who is being courted by the irrepressibly charming refugee Rudi. Fay reads Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’ (lent by Lisa) and suddenly the exotic Rudi epitomises real romance and happiness. Rudi urbanely puts her ‘women-with-a- past’ concerns to bed by listing the far more numerous dalliances of his own colourful past.

And what becomes of sad Patty? A bit of strategic retail therapy turns her life round when she buys a sexy night-gown. The irresistible charms of Patty in said, sexy nightdress overcomes hubby Frank (Doug Rumble) concerns about behaving like something from a ‘zoo’ and allows Patty the moment – after some misunderstanding – to reassure him that she like him that way! …. and more, but I don’t want to give away all the twists and turns.

This is a gentle tale about fundamental societal change.


The Genesian Theatre (where 'Ladies in Black' is presently showing) opened in 1868 and was originally dedicated to St John the Evangelist, but was later named after the patron saint of actors 'St Genesius', when taken over by the Genesian Theatre Company in 1954. A beautiful old church on Kent Street, transformed into a Community Theatre by Sydney Catholic Youth Organisation, it quite possibly embodies the optimism of a changing world as much as the upbeat production of 'Ladies in Black'. Stained glass windows, sandstone structure and wooden beams. Charm all round.

What’s not to love.

Ladies in Black

A Genesian Theatre Company Production

Until 7 December

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