That Daring Australian Girl showcases the historical significance of women’s enfranchisement in the colony of South Australia from 1894, which was enacted decades before Britain finally got there in 1926.
With a tremulous voice, British accent, and budding Australian sense of settler identity; Joanne Hartstone is entirely believable as the Adelaidean Muriel Matters, who left Australia for London in her early adult years and became active in the movement for women’s suffrage.
Well-known scenes from Matters’ life are reproduced with verve — from her participation in the Women’s Freedom League Votes for Women caravan to flying a dirigible to scatter pamphlets over the Houses of Parliament.
Hartstone’s Muriel appears to have an unfulfilled, ambiguous ‘longing’ for something or someone, and it’s inferred that that longing could be for her comrade Violet Tillman and/or for a child. The lesbian thread might have been more interesting if it was pursued as an actual love affair rather than suggested as repressed desire, and the biological maternal urge seems a little too easy to put into a story about a woman who fulfilled so many other desires outside of the expectations of her sex.
One also wonders if the script could have made more of the fact that Aboriginal women also gained the vote in South Australia in 1894 along with all other women living in the colony; an unusual thing for early instances of women’s suffrage in the British Empire, which were often associated with white supremacist ideas.
Still, the script and Hartstone’s acting treats Matters’ life as at least as accomplished and trailblazing as it must have been. Hartstone’s emotional range is gripping, and costuming, set design and use of props and lighting is cleverly, seamlessly done. That Daring Australian Girl is impressive one-woman theatre.
That Daring Australian Girl played at the Holden Street Theatres on Tuesday, March 6 and continues there until March 18, and the Stirling Pocket until March 12.