Sandra Bates and Lorraine Bayly. Images: Katy Green Loughry.

THEATRE: 25 MAY 2015


The Shoe-Horn Sonata, by John Misto | Directed by Sandra Bates

Ensemble Theatre | Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli, Sydney | Until 28 June

John Misto’s award-wining play The Shoe-Horn Sonata was inspired by the real-life experiences of Australian nurses imprisoned during World War 2 by the Japanese Army. It documents, in great detail, the true events of two women — Bridie Cartwright (Sandra Bates) and Sheila Richards (Lorraine Bayly) — who survived nearly four years in a Japanese prison camp in the jungles of Sumatra.

The play begins in 1995 when the two meet up again in a Melbourne hotel, having not seen each other since leaving Singapore in 1945. They have been asked to participate in a TV interview and as the interview progresses the truths and untruths of the past are exposed and appalling events are revealed.

Bates and Bayly are a skilful partnership and soundly capture the resilience and unique relationship that is at the heart of this drama. Together both performers bring to life the heroic spirit of these women as they narrate the numerous ways in which they supported each other.

There is also an off-stage character, Rick (Jamie Oxenbould), whose voice we hear as he questions the women in the recording studio. In many ways his voice highlights the manipulation these women endured by unseen men, and his interview places Bridie and Sheila back once more in a situation of vulnerability, where Rick has the power to shape their story.

Sandra Bates takes on a dual role and directs. She choses a mostly dialogue-driven approach, which requires a hefty concentration commitment from actors and audience. Anna Gardiner’s stage design makes some attempt to supply a visual aspect using slides, but they are never striking enough to remove our focus away from the actors or to intrinsically heighten the audience’s understanding of the issues. Likewise music and sound hardly help to establish mood or highlight memories.

There were welcome moments of humour derived from the recounting of comic events after the war but sadly they seemed short-lived. Misto’s play is conventional and unchallenging in form and structure, and this production sadly does little to address this.

However, it is remains a unique narrative and the two performers effectively and dramatically demonstrate how human beings can support each other through the most horrendous events and how such events can continue to corrode inner peace.

Lorraine Bayly.

Sandra Bates.