Once again Port Macquarie proves to have a wealth of local talent, with Adrian Davis writing his first stage drama, The Secret Reunion, which will be performed by a talented cast at Players Theatre from August 24 to September 9. The play was inspired by Adrian’s own fascination for World War II and his admiration for the female members in the French section of the Special Operations Executive.
Please tell us a bit about your background …
Originally from the UK, I arrived in Australia early 2009 and settled in the Hastings, where I already had family. I have two children who have experienced seeing their dad in several musicals and rehearsals over the years.
What made you decide to write a play … was The Secret Reunion your first attempt at being a playwright?
This is my first piece of drama for the stage. Previously, I’ve written two ‘Juke Box’ musicals featuring music from a UK band, The Beautiful South, and co-written Hello Again, a Neil Diamond musical.
Inspiration for the play came from a visit to Port Macquarie Library, where I came across two books about the wartime efforts of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). The efforts and gallantry carried out by the women in the French Section of the SOE intrigue me; they were just amazing. Quite a few of the girls never made it back. I felt their story needed to be retold. I later learnt that one of the authors was a former resident of Port Macquarie, Nancy Wake.
Where did the idea come from for the story/plot?
As I was walking out of Port Macquarie Library early 2009, I glanced at two books, one by Leanne Jones on the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and another by Nancy Wake, the White Mouse. Unbeknownst to me at the time was that Nancy was Australia’s most highly decorated wartime female veteran.
I then later learnt that Nancy was a former resident of Port Macquarie. So the play had to be written!
I had an interest in WWII and have toured the Normandy landings − a very humbling experience. I combined the real story of SOE with my interest in this genre. The structure is similar to The Cemetery Club, a play which has a group of loyal friends, all retired women.
In a nutshell, what is The Secret Reunion actually about?
I wanted to move away from a boy meets girl storylines. Five retired women spies attend a reunion 30 years after WWII, each of whom were highly decorated in their own right. During the festivities, an uninvited guest arrives − a suspected double agent.
This triggers all the women to open up and release their experiences − some were horrors. The stage then lights up and reveals a flashback to the 1940s: the agents were interrogated by the Gestapo or the SD. The play escalates into an explosion of guilt, conscience and redemption.
The play is set in two time periods: World War II and also the 1970s. How did you tie these two time periods together?
Odette Churchill received the George Cross for her bravery and on telling her story from the comfort of a 1975 function room, a young Odette appears in the dark grey of an interrogation room. It’s cleverly done by their own conscience and lighting to create the atmosphere and to keep the narrative running.
Much of the narrative is prompted by the girls who did not come home. Audiences will be fixed to their seats, as they see the all too frightening figure of a Gestapo officer appear.
Who are some of the standout characters in the play, and who will actually be playing the parts?
All of the girls are stand out characters and in particular the leading lady, Lyn Turner, a local actress and singer who plays Vera Aitkins. Lyn’s original interpretation of Vera is so emotional, real tears have been shed by cast members in rehearsals. The leading male character, Colonel Buckmaster, is the steely spy boss, who tackles his own conscience and regrets, while protecting his girls.
I was lucky enough to cast Jeff Pohlmann in this role − an actor of great presence and convincing in every detail. But on a lighter note, Sue Morvan plays the flamboyant Nancy Wake; audiences will love her tough but humorous take on the evening.
What do you think will most capture the audience’s attention as the play is performed?
Definitely the mood and the contrast from a bright and colourful era back to the grey and dark suspense of 1940s occupied France. A lot of research went into the medals, insignia, war time footage, props and the special effects in the play, to make it as atmospheric and gripping to the audience as possible.
When The Secret Reunion is performed at Players Theatre on opening night, it will be the world premiere of the production. How exciting will this be for you, as the playwright, to see your characters finally coming to life on stage?
Yes, very exciting, and I have my parents coming over to share the experience of the opening night. It is thrilling seeing the actors lifting the words from the script and their interpretation of characters. I will be looking at the audiences, making sure they have been entertained through a rollercoaster of emotions.
What is your dream for The Secret Reunion? Are there plans for the world stage?
Initially, I would like to see other community groups in Australia perform it. Talks are underway with another director, who would like to take it to one of the fringe festivals in the future. The piece should also be of interest to students studying modern history and drama.
Now you’ve successfully written a major theatrical production, what’s next on the agenda? Are there any ideas on the backburner quietly simmering away?
I would like to focus on getting The Secret Reunion published. I would then like to see one of my musicals produced in Australia – just need the time!
Interview by Jo Atkins.
This story was published in issue 81 of the Greater Port Macquarie Focus