Dear Sun. An adaptation of the letters of Joy Hester and Sunday Reed edited by Janine Burke. Melbourne Theatre Company directed by Sioban Tuke at the James O Fairfax Theatre, National Gallery of Australia, Sunday September 23, 2001.
In a setting that could be called Still Life in Artist's Studio, among seemingly breeze-scattered sheets of partially drawn-upon paper and deeply red delicious apples spilled from a country wicker basket, three performers were held in situ. The only movement was the bowing arm and slightly bowing body of Associate Principal Cellist of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Sarah Morse; the rising into the spotlights of Rosalind Hammond as Joy Hester and Catherine Wilkin as Sunday Reed; their occasional use respectively of a kitchen chair and a 1950's Scandinavian style sunroom armchair; Hester's hand movements describing lines drawn in a letter or two; and the looks that pass between these two extraordinary women as if their letters were a face-to-face conversation.
This was all I needed to become entirely engrossed in their lives, and the terribly foreboding death of Joy Hester. There was a great tension between watching a theatrical performance yet knowing that each letter was real. I could not avoid feeling Hester's conflict over her new love and her responsibility for the child she left in the Reeds' care; the terror of Hodgkin's Disease and Hester's determination to be true to her feelings which she believed kept her alive for 10 years more than doctors predicted; the confusion over whether Sweeney should be adopted by Sunday and John Reed, against the possibility that his father Albert Tucker would demand his return to his care alone; the ill-feeling that seem to grow between the two women as words written at a distance for so many years failed to pass on true meaning, until they met again in the final dreadful year.
And the sadness of Hester's death was reinforced by large projections of her works, related to the people and experiences in her letters and poems, showing the variety and depths of feeling she created with no more than the necessary lines and shadings, while she continued to believe that she was not a major figure.
This performance illuminated my understanding of the art of Joy Hester, and I wonder if a film could be (or has been) made as a permanent record.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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