Ken Longworth | Spoon River Anthology

WHEN Claire Pasvolsky was working as an actress in Edinburgh in 2006 she was so fascinated by a musical she saw called Spoon River Anthology that she bought a copy of the book it was based on.

ANGELIC SPIN: L to R: Jessica Morgan, Alexandra Jensen and Evie Laurence, as the angels of Spoon River.

ANGELIC SPIN: L to R: Jessica Morgan, Alexandra Jensen and Evie Laurence, as the angels of Spoon River.

The writer, Edgar Lee Masters, drew on his childhood experiences in a small United States country town in the late 19th century, putting together a collection of short free-verse epitaphs in which dead people from such a town comment about each other and those still living.

The book, published in 1915, has been the subject of many adaptations in the century since, with a variety of styles used. The musical Claire Pasvolsky saw, for example, focused on the humour in the people’s memories.

Pasvolsky has been working since February with members of Hunter Drama’s Actors Company on a very different exploration of the lives and thoughts of the people of Spoon River. This Spoon River Anthology will be staged at Newcastle’s Civic Playhouse from October 27 to 29.

The Actors Company members are the senior students of Hunter Drama, who develop each year in association with a director a project that makes use of different theatre styles. The 19 actors, aged 16 to 21, will play multiple characters, ranging from an eight-year-old girl to a 90-year-old man.

In this adaptation, the characters will mostly be seen during their lives, though with three angels watching them and commenting on their words and actions. The audience will get to know the people, and then see them experiencing the moments that will determine how their life’s journey ends.

“They have the choice to follow their heart or to make decisions that will probably be in their best interest,” Pasvolsky said.

The characters include the Pantier family, including a husband and wife who can’t stand each other, and their son Reuben, who is in love with his young school teacher, Emily Sparks. There is also Minerva Jones, the village poetess who longs to escape the prison of the small-minded town, and Butch Weldy, a demonic trouble maker with hidden depths.

The actors are Ryan Beazley, Jeff Burke, Isabelle Clements, Charlotte De Wit, Isabel Formby, Jacob Gamble, Rosie Gately, Sam Hawkins, Indigo Howland, Alexandra Jensen, Evie Laurence, Harry Lyddiard, Laura Macleod, Jessica Morgan, Jasmine Moss, Charlie O'Connell, Will Parker, Siobhan Pickard and Sebastian Szeszeran.

  • Spoon River Anthology can be seen at the Civic Playhouse nightly at 8pm from Thursday, October 27 to Saturday, October 29, plus a 2pm Saturday matinee. Tickets: $35.70; student $25.50. Bookings: 4929 1977.