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REGIONAL NSW


See, and hear, history come and go

Jason Richardson: The CAD Factory, In the Heart of the Past


In the Heart of Our Past In the Heart of Our Past
photo Jason Richardson
Narrandera’s 20th John O’Brien Festival celebrates the poetry of Father Patrick Hartigan, famous for characterising pessimistic farmers with the lines “We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan, “before the year is out” (Said Hanrahan, 1921).

Arriving at the railway station for The CAD Factory performance In the Heart of Our Past, I discover my radio doesn’t work. As the play is being broadcast into vehicles in the carpark, I’m helped to find another seat. My companions are Jess, Sarah, Claire and Frankie the labrador, who’s seeing theatre for the first time according to the event’s Facebook page.

A group in historical costume waits outside the station as a tall figure in a baseball cap speaks into a microphone. It’s Kieran Carroll, who wrote the three short plays we’re about to see during a CAD Factory residency in 2012. The group begins singing as Carroll saunters off, setting the nostalgic scene.

Actor Lee McClenaghan introduces herself as Shirley Bliss, 20-year old dressmaker and 1954’s Miss Australia. She’s off to California to compete for the Miss Universe crown, farewelling well wishers and fielding questions from a series of journalists played with varying accents by Paul Mercuri. As Bliss arrives in the US, Mercuri transforms into a sleazy film producer.

There are a few issues with McClenaghan’s wireless microphone. I joke with my new friends that it sounds as though cuss words have been censored. Soon Bliss returns to Narrandera, heralded by the squeal of a real train on the tracks beyond the station.

With chorus members harmonising, Mercuri and McClenaghan return in the second play set in 1909 as Dr Harold and Gwen Lethbridge, who treated Narrandera patients for over 35 years. The doctor expresses a desire to record Indigenous culture as well as wildlife. He recounts an old Aboriginal saying, “We live in the land, not on it.” The chorus signals the final act with a beautiful refrain, “I shall pass” and the line “any good that I can do, let me do it now.” The singers are led by Fiona Caldarevic, a local musician who, like The CAD Factory, has contributed significantly to Narrandera’s culture in recent years.

In the third play Mercuri returns, bent over a walking stick as a 115-year-old, nicknamed in reference to the local climate as “Drought and Rain” by the Hanrahan of O’Brien’s poem. “That mob in Narrandera will be blaming me for invading Poland,” says Mr Rain as he recalls leaving town ahead of bumper wheat crops. He takes a wife named Summer and jokes, “I married the hottest season.” After an affair with one April May, Summer leaves for Hobart with a joke about how no-one knew her in Tasmania. Like the rest of the show, it’s lighthearted material delivered with aplomb.

The wizardry of broadcasting to a car-based audience evokes both radio plays and drive-ins past. Comments from Jess, Sarah and Claire made me appreciate being part of a larger audience. They delighted in the girl singing in the chorus and the hat of one of the singers. Meanwhile Frankie spied a dog in the house behind the car park.

Country towns often seem stuck in the past, marketing history to passing cars in an age of innovation. The CAD Factory brings a refreshing perspective to local events, interpreting stories in new formats with artistry.


Western Riverina Arts and Spirit FM: The CAD Factory, In the Heart of Our Past, A Drive-in Theatre Experience, writer, director Kieran Carroll, concept, director Vic McEwan, Narrandera Railway Station, March 15

You can read a profile of Leeton-based musician and composer Jason Richardson and see images and video of his work here.

RealTime issue #120 April-May 2014 pg. 31

© ; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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