The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell (Currency Press and Belvoir in association with Oombarra Productions)
Leah Purcell’s retooling of Henry Lawson’s story represents a seismic shift in postcolonial Australian playwriting. Once again we meet a drover’s wife, alone with her children in a harsh frontier landscape. But the snakes here are white, male and merciless. By placing two Indigenous characters at the heart of this version, the original is demythologised and subverted before being brilliantly remythologised.
Brave, ruthless and utterly compelling from the first image, this epic tragedy is a passionate howl of pain and rage, while simultaneously announcing itself as a declaration of war on Australia’s wilful historical amnesia. Purcell ranges across form and style, from western to horror to comic flourishes. Though relentless in its annihilation of hope, The Drover’s Wife still allows the possibility of redemption.
Leah Purcell has made a bold and exciting contribution to Australian playwriting and, arguably, to Australia’s identity. She has repurposed colonial tropes and reinvented an existing form to insist that we consider a new exploration of culture. The unforgettable central character brims with emotional integrity and contradiction. Birth and death co-exist, as do love and brutality, despair and resilience. This is a work to challenge our sense of ourselves and of our place.