Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (Black Swan State Theatre Company)

ABR Arts is generously supported by ABR Patrons and Copyright Agency Cultural Fund.
Will Yeoman Friday, 11 May 2018
Published in ABR Arts

Black Swan State Theatre Company’s terrific new production of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll joins other recent revivals such as those by Belvoir Street Theatre (2011) and State Theatre Company of South Australia (2015) in showing that Ray Lawler’s 1955 classic has lost none of its power to entertain and provoke.

Some of the themes explored in the Doll – set in Melbourne in 1953–54 and first seen in Perth in 1956, a year after its Melbourne première – have, if anything, assumed greater significance for West Australian audiences in light of the state’s current reliance on FIFO workers. But so much else has changed – appropriate for a play which is all about change. The ease of staying in touch has radically altered the nature of long-distance relationships. Indeed, the nature of relationships full stop has radically altered. To what extent Australian audiences also recognise themselves in what was seen as a ground-breaking work of social realism depicting, for the first time in this country, the real lives of real working class Australians, is debatable.

On a superficial level, The Doll is now a period piece, and on that level director Adam Mitchell treats it as such. However, that doesn’t equate with nostalgia, and while Bruce McKinven’s costumes and set design firmly places the play in 1950s Australia, the ‘lightbox’ configuration of the set, together with Trent Suidgeest’s efficiently expressive lighting and Ben Collins’ psychologically astute sound design is thoroughly contemporary. The resulting dissonance between these elements and the 1950s kitsch décor, replete with previous summers’ sixteen Kewpie dolls scattered across the back wall like a disorganised skein of the once ubiquitous flying wall ducks, is one of this production’s chief joys.

Sign up to the fortnightly ABR Arts e-bulletin for news, reviews, and giveaways

Read the rest of this article by subscribing to ABR Online for as little as $10 a month.

We offer a range of subscription options, including print, which can be found by clicking here. If you are already a subscriber, enter your username and password in the ‘Log In’ section in the top right-hand corner of the screen.

If you require assistance, contact us or consult the Frequently Asked Questions page.

Published in ABR Arts
Will Yeoman

Will Yeoman

Will Yeoman is a Perth-based arts writer and literary editor for The West Australian. He guest curated the writers program at the 2018 Perth International Arts Festival.

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.