Henry Lawson and Dame Mary Gilmore (nee Cameron) are famous Australian authors who appeared on Australia’s old paper $10 note. They’re also the subject of an intense period drama and romantic play called All My Love. It’s a story that asks a number of “What if?” style questions and hints at what could have been a great love story.
The play is written by Sydney writer Anne Brooksbank, who also penned a book on the same subject around two decades ago. The Riverside Theatre in Parramatta played host to the first professional production of the show and it was directed by Denny Lawrence. It was a deceptively simple piece of theatre in terms of how it was rendered but it was also one that pulled a number of emotional punches.
All My Love is mostly told from Gilmore’s perspective. It begins with her being a wide-eyed and progressive young woman making the journey from Broken Hill to Sydney and contemplating a career as a teacher. Her mother was friends with Louisa Lawson, a feminist writer and publisher. Lawson was also the mother of the then fledgling writer, Henry Lawson. The pairing of Gilmore and Henry Lawson seemed like a match made in heaven but life had a habit of intervening.
The play threads together a series of vignettes where Lawson and Gilmore’s paths cross — from their initial meeting and courtship to their break-up and Gilmore’s departure to Paraguay. There are also some fleeting intervals the friends share before Lawson’s untimely death at age 55. Brooksbank has done an excellent job of telling the story and connecting together some separate episodes with the pair’s letters to each other and the haunting prose from their poems and stories. There are two scenes in particular that hit you in the guts and they are when Gilmore reads the poem Never Admit The Pain poem and Lawson is confined in gaol in One Hundred and Three.
The show doesn’t have lots of bells and whistles but the stage is realised to its full potential and the dim lighting adds to the overall sense of melancholy. A screen displays some old, black and white photographs and these are used to denote different passages by ship and other set changes. The couple’s eponymous theme by Jack Ellis is a recurring motif that is also rather dark and the costumes by Sophie Woodward are appropriate for the period. One thing that is very striking about this show is that while there are only two actors on the stage at any given moment, the characters of some of the key players (namely Louisa Lawson and Henry’s ill-matched wife, Bertha Bredt) seem a palpable presence. This is likely due to the fact that everyone has done such a fabulous job of capturing the essence and sentimentality of Lawson and Gilmore.
All My Love is an important story that is very sad to watch, especially as it poses questions about what might have been and the regretful ruminations this famous pair of writers had. It’s a significant, historical story that still has meaning today. It shows a strong and inspirational woman and how she becomes wise. In short, it’s a great play that will hopefully inspire a new generation of readers to go out and enjoy the collective works of the immensely talented Dame Mary Gilmore and Henry Lawson.
All My Love plays at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatre until February 20 and at Belrose’s Glenn Street Theatre from March 1-6. For more information and tickets please visit: https://riversideparramatta.com.au/show/all-my-love/ and http://www.glenstreet.com.au/whats/all-my-love