The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell

I don’t often read plays.  Reading plays requires different reading skills, together with a capacity for visualization which doesn’t always work effectively for me.  And yet, I can be (and was this time) surprised.  Why?  Because I thought I knew ‘The Drover’s Wife’ that wonderful short story by Henry Lawson.  Because I’ve only ever read it one way.  Ms Purcell’s interpretation makes me think differently.

‘I recently had a kill – ‘

I read this play purely by chance: I’d asked for a copy of Leah Purcell’s new novel of the same name and received a copy of her earlier play.  Intrigued, I read it through, finished it, and then reread Henry Lawson’s short story.

Yes, Ms Purcell’s play departs from the original story.  There are more active characters: the antagonist in the Henry Lawson version becomes the hero in this.  There are other changes, too. In the play, Molly (the Drover’s Wife) is participating more in events, not passively waiting.  And some of the reader’s assumptions about power and relative strength are challenged as well.

For myself, the play challenges the euro-centric view I have based on my reading of Henry Lawson’s short story.  And that, surely, is a good thing.

I found the play easy to follow: actions as described and words working together to create powerful images.  And now I wait, patiently, to read Ms Purcell’s novel.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith