First performed in Melbourne in 1963.
Opened at the Suncorp Theatre, Brisbane: 4 June 1992.
Director: Neil Armfield.
Produced by the Sydney Theatre Company (Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, 5 November - 15 December 2018).
Director: Kip Williams.
Set Designer: Elizabeth Gadsby.
Costume Designer: Alice Babidge.
With Sarah Peirse.
'This reviewer has the unfashionable opinion, at present, that Patrick White, like Henry James, was a novelist and short story writer of genius who had an unfortunate obsession with the stage. In the 1960s, the nascent Adelaide Festival produced the one play of his that deserves repetition, The Season at Sarsaparilla (1962). Its success motivated him to write another couple, one of which was A Cheery Soul, which John Sumner directed for the Union Theatre Repertory Company in 1963. More unfortunately, towards the end of his career, he was encouraged to write plays of an increasingly third-rate standard, which diverted him from what could have been his final masterpiece, the novel The Hanging Garden.' (Introduction)
'STC’s production of Patrick White’s darkly comic A Cheery Soul shows that the story of ‘monstrous’ nursing home resident Miss Docker is a still-relevant examination of the loss of agency in old age.' (Introduction)
'The question for theatre-makers is: how to make the stage new? How can theatre escape what is already given? 'The painter does not paint on an empty canvas', write Deleuze and Guattari, 'and neither does the writer write on a blank page; but the page or canvas is already so covered with preexisting, preestablished clich s that it is first necessary to erase, to clean, to flatten, even to shred, so as to let in a breath of air from the chaos that brings us the vision'. We might say that the stage, too, no less than the canvas and the page, is full of clich s, pre-established rhythms of characterisation and plotting, in dialogue and gesture, setting and design, which crowd on to every stage and ghost every performance. Based on a viewing of a recently restored archival recording, this article offers the example of the 1979 Sydney Theatre Company production of Patrick White's A Cheery Soul. Sweeping aside White's detailed stage directions and placing the character of Miss Docker in an abstract but atmospheric landscape, the production carried its audience into a world that baffled naturalistic conventions of meaning and connection, broke with clich and successfully created something new for the Australian theatre.'
'Patrick White's love of the theatre began early in life and he especially enjoyed the company of actors. He wrote roles for specific actors, such as Kerry Walker and Max Cullen, frequently made recommendations to directors as to which actors should play particular parts in his plays, and spent long periods at rehearsals observing quietly. At times, he was overcome with emotion as the actors worked. White also famously 'took up' a few Australian actors and cultivated their friendship, notably Walker and Kate Fitzpatrick.
'Perhaps more than any other actor, Robyn Nevin brought White's modernist theatricality to life in her extraordinary portrayal of Miss Docker in Jim Sharman's production of A Cheery Soul in 1979. H.G. Kippax described Nevin's performance as 'dazzling', referring to the production as both 'spectacular and poetic'. This article considers Robyn Nevin in the context of theatrical modernism and the plays of Patrick White. Nevin's range is wide and her capacity for comic acting is particularly versatile. Nevin's comic acting in White's plays demonstrates her contribution to an Australian style of acting that is evident in the work of Nevin as well as in that of Walker and Cullen. This style of acting, developed in Australia with directors John Bell, Rex Cramphorn and Jim Sharman, has powerfully shaped our understanding of White's plays and modernist drama, allowing a new perspective on aesthetic modernism. The article focuses on the constellation of White, Sharman and Nevin in creating the landmark production of A Cheery Soul in 1979.' (Publication abstract)
' This article discusses a hitherto unexamined letter exchange between the author Patrick White and the theatre director John Sumner. It concerns the production by the Union Theatre Repertory Company of two White plays in the 1960s: 'The Season at Sarsaparilla' (1962) and 'A Cheery Soul' (1963). The aperture of the correspondence also takes in productions of 'The Ham Funeral' (1961) and 'Night on Bald Mountain' (1964) by the Adelaide University Theatre Guild in the same period. Thus it provides a seminal example of 'failure' in White's five-year sojourn in Australian theatre from 1960 to 1965, a time when his four best-known plays were denounced by critics and rejected by audiences. By way of analysis, I deploy a range of interpre tive concepts drawn from Erving Goffman's Stigma (1963), most importantly the notions of 'spoiled identity' and 'role discrepancy'. I define the social fact of failure as a certain relation between actual social identity, virtual social identity, personal identity and ego-identity. The article examines the White- Sumner correspondence to show how failure was managed as a job of work by a 'logic of use' pursuant to its being a likely outcome of staging one of White's plays. In conclusion, it lists the features of a 'logic of use' and discusses the adaptive utility of failing in creative situations where the penalty to be paid - being designated 'a failure' - is both probable and heavy.' (Publication abstract)
(for 2018 production)