I read Owls Do Cry by New Zealander Janet Frame (1924-2004) when I was in my twenties. Not that that is remarkable. What is remarkable is her personal story, which translates into fiction through much of her work, and this novel is no exception. The setting is the coastal town of Oamaru where the ‘Withers’ family face many hardships, including money problems, mental health issues, a disabled child, death, and grief. It is a profound book, touching and disturbing, for when Frame writes about ‘Daphne’s’ experiences in psychiatric hospitals, she is speaking of herself. There are passages which float between the lucid and the wild but Janet Frame’s writing carries the reader into these worlds using unique and brilliant prose.
Janet Frame wrote many books in her lifetime; possibly the best known were the three, written in the 1980s, which formed her autobiography: To the Is-land, An Angel at My Table and The Envoy from Mirror City. An Angel at my Table was made into a film in 1990, directed by New Zealander, Jane Campion. I was keen to see the movie as I had read all the books. Usually I don’t like such translations. But the film of An Angel At my Table was beautifully made and told a poignant, and authentic story, capturing the essence of the written works and Frame’s life with distinction.
When I read recently that the physical theatre group, Red Leap, was performing Owls Do Cry in Auckland, I was curious as to how they would interpret a story of such complexity. I decided to go and find out. The performance was at Q Theatre, a favourite place to see innovative theatre. It was a fast-paced show, with high quality movement and acting; the choreography superb. I could identify most of characters, but only because of my knowledge of Frame and her family dynamics. There was no argument however, that this was very good theatre. I do believe that Janet Frame would have loved it.
Red LeapTheatre: Owls do Cry was adapted for stage by Artistic Director Julie Nolan, Director Malia Johnston, Composer Eden Mulholland, Designer Penny Fitt and Dramaturgy by Heather Timms. Cast: Ross McCormack, Margaret Mary Hollins, Ella Becroft, Hannah Lynch, Comfrey Sanders and Arlo Gibson. https://redleaptheatre.co.nz