All My Love

All My Love
By Anne Brooksbank. Christine Harris and HIT Productions. Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, February 17 – 20, 2016, and touring.

This carefully – and lovingly – researched play is story telling at its most gentle and revealing. Through the words and lives of two of Australia’s most revered literary icons, Dame Mary Gilmore and Henry Lawson – played by Kim Denman and Dion Mills – playwright Anne Brooksbank reveals not only the story of an enduring love, but a rich insight into the social and political history of the time.

Their poetry is well known; their thwarted love and involved lives probably less so. But Brooksbank has intertwined them in a piece of theatre that is skillfully crafted and poignantly moving. She has captured the essence of their shared but frustrated love, their intense belief in social justice and women’s rights, their love of their country – and their ability to enunciate this expressively and articulately.

Director Denny Lawrence: “The poetry of the protagonists and of course extracts from their letters – make for a highly evocative work that is very theatrical in the best sense.”

Lawrence’s direction complements the delicacy and economy of Brooksbank’s writing. Scenes don’t linger, but emotions do. This is clever, subtle direction that shows Lawrence’s real feeling for the script, its many subtexts and the two people it reveals. 

The design team is similarly perceptive. Chris Hubbard’s sound design, incorporating work of composer Jack Ellis, evokes changing times and moods; and Jacob Battista’s set and lighting allows the action to move fluently whether in the room of a Sydney boarding house or a city park or the deck of a liner aground in the Red Sea. The lighting helps set the delicate but defined pace of the production …which both actors sustain masterfully.

Together they recreate the social and relationship constraints of the time – and the effect of these on their lives.

Kim Denman finds all the emotional strength and self-control that marked Gilmore’s life, writing and political activism. Playing either story-teller or lover, activist or poet, Denman exemplifies the power of the woman, her self-possession, her strength of will, her social integrity – and the depths of her emotions. She moves gracefully and efficiently on the stage, taking the audience from busy Sydney to far away Paraguay to cold Liverpool – and Gilmore from young teacher, to tempted lover, to fervent socialist, to loving friend – in beautifully articulated vocals that are a tribute to Brooksbank’s careful reconstruction of the story and the elegant writing of the poet herself.

Dion Mills is just as real and appealing as the struggling poet that Lawson always felt himself to be, and the resulting lack of self-esteem that dogged him most of his life. Mills finds all of this in an evocative performance that reveals all the strengths and weaknesses of the man. We see him torn between his love for Mary and his filial duty to and dependence on his vocally active feminist/suffragette mother. As well we see him fiercely patriotic, vehemently socially aware and aggressively protective of his small children.

There is not much of the real Lawson that is concealed in Brooksbank’s script, and Mills portrays the personal vulnerability of the man as well as the passions and power of the poet.

Together they bring to the theatre a gently eloquent but deeply moving story of two people whose love story will endure through their letters, their poetry, the impact they made on the history of their time – and the deft writing of a perceptive playwright … and, in this production, a similarly deft director and skilfully perceptive actors.

Carol Wimmer

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