The Shoe-horn Sonata
Opened at Murwillumbah Civic Centre 8th March 2013 – presented as ‘theatre in the round’
Supporters of Murwillumbah Theatre Company will be pleased to see the return of actors Eve Wheeler (Ladies Down Under, Fur Coat and No Knickers, The World Bra Unclipping Championships at Garimba, Cut, Rumours and numerous other productions) and Helen Moore Keogh (Rumours, Lend Me A Tenor, Guys & Dolls and numerous other productions) in ‘The Shoehorn Sonata’. Bridie, played by Eve Wheeler, and Shiela, played by Helen Moore Keogh, will take you on a roller-coaster of emotions as they recall memories of their times as Japanese prisoners of war.
Following the success of the MTC production of HSC text Ruby Moon in 2009, it was decided to stage Shoe-horn Sonata, an HSC text, in March 2013. Performance of HSC text provides local senior students the opportunity to study the play at first hand, an opportunity they do not usually have available in regional NSW. Students travelled from across Tweed, Byron and Lismore Shires.
John Misto’s play, The Shoe-Horn Sonata, was inspired by the real-life experiences of Australian nurses taken prisoner by the Japanese Army after the fall of Singapore in l942, during World War 2.
From l942 to the end of the war in August 1945, they lived in primitive, at times desperate conditions. Only 24 out of an original 65 were eventually brought back to Australia in October, l945. Many had drowned or been shot dead as they were being evacuated from Singapore when the Japanese forces captured it. Others died of malnutrition and illness in the prison camps. Supplies sent to them by the Red Cross, including food and necessary medicines, were almost always withheld by their captors.
The writer, John Misto, wanted to make Australians aware of the heroism of these nurses. He believed that it was disgraceful that, fifty years after that war had ended, Australia had still not set up any memorial to its army nurses, even though many of the Australian troops owed their lives to their care. Misto handed over all the prize money he won with this play in l995 to the fund to build such a memorial.
His play is itself a touching memorial to them. It was inspired by the most famous account of their experiences, the diary of Betty Jeffrey of the Australian Army Nursing Service, published as White Coolies in 1954 (reprinted l999, Angus and Robertson). Misto read this book when he was a teenager, and has said he could not forget it. Many years later, he interviewed many of the surviving women as he researched the background for his play. In his Author’s Note (p.16) he tells us:
“Although the characters of ‘Bridie’ (Eve Wheeler) and ‘Sheila’ (Helen Moore Keogh) are fictional, every incident they describe is true and occurred between l942 and l995.
There was even a Shoe-Horn…
”The same book, White Coolies, formed the basis for the movie Paradise Road,written and directed by Australian Bruce Beresford, and released in l997. He too did further research into these events and experiences, and found hours of tapes prepared by Norah Chambers for the BBC before her death. An English woman with a ‘glorious voice’, she organised a voice orchestra; the parts for the ‘instruments’ in the orchestra were written out by an interned missionary teacher, Margaret Dryburgh. Betty Jeffrey was a member of this group.