What happens to a society when poetry is banned?
That's one of the questions posed by Alma De Groen's 1999 play The Woman in the Window. Liz Bradley is directing the play for Canberra Repertory Society.
Bradley said she wanted to do a modern Australian play, preferably by a woman, that had something to say.
The Woman in the Window, she said, was about totalitarian worlds where the arts were not valued.
The action takes place in two times and places. In Stalinist Russia in the 1950s, subversive poet Anna Ahkmatova (played by Karen Vickery), too famous to be killed, has been placed under house arrest.
She must appear in the window twice a day to satisfy the secret police she is still there.
But she is continuing the write poetry and her friends, including live-in carer and housekeeper Lilli (Lainie Hart), memorise them to keep them alive.
Ahkamatova was a real poet and her poetry was preserved using the method described.
It's juxtaposed with a future, denatured Australia, where corporations rule and a "poet" is someone who researches poetry in the archives.
A young woman, Rachel Sekerov (Zoe Swan) who works as a "stress consultant" (ie escort) begins to wish for more in life. When poetry is declared economically unviable, she teams up with a poet, Sandor (Michael Cooper) to try to save it.
Alex McPherson plays two characters in the future world. One is Maren, another of the stress consultants.
"She's the closest thing Rachel has to a friend," she said.
Maren, she said, starts to find she is unable to cope in the sterile world.
McPherson's other character, Miz, is in charge of the stress consultants.
"She starts off a little bit human but when she sees the situation starting to get out of her control she becomes more militaristic."
For McPherson, the play "is about how one person can make a difference".
And Hart said, "For me, it's a play about courage and standing up for what you believe in: in this case, protection of the arts."
- The Woman in the Window is on at Canberra REP Theatre (Theatre 3) on September 5 (preview) at 8pm, then September 6 to 21. canberrarep.com.au.