Douglas has been a professional food writer since 1986. He is also an award-winning actor and director in Community Theatre and has been for many years. His blog may be found at: www.urbaneguerilla.wordpress.com
Published September 9th 2014
That one small head could carry all (s)he knew
Anyone who has had any connection with amateur theatre in Western Australia in the last fifty years cannot but know of Ailsa Travers, at least by reputation.
Tall, commanding, forthright to the point of rudeness Ailsa is old school to the bone. Natural casting for Lady Bracknell or Lady Catherine De Burgh, she has had a huge, mostly benign, influence on the development of community theatre in Western Australia over the last five decades.
Now, at ninety, Ailsa is beginning to slow down a little and reflect on her past and, in conjunction with Denise M Cull, has produced the story of her life until now, aptly entitled Ailsa B Travers.
Let me at once admit partiality. I like Ailsa and I would regard her as a friend. I have worked with her and for her. I have immense respect for her abilities, of which tact is not high on the list, as she would readily agree.
She once rang, offering me a part in Abelard and Heloise. "I need a torturer", she said. "I have a small one, so I'm looking for someone big and fat. Do you want the part?" I declined gracefully.
She comes from good upper middle class stock and was raised in pre-war England in considerable affluence before meeting and marrying her husband Laurence after which they began flitting from country to country eventually settling in Western Australia in the early 60s.
Her involvement in theatre is deep-seated and life-long but that is by no means the only, or even the most, interesting thing about her and the book is a riveting read for the story as it unfolds. And I would recommend it even for those few people who don't know her or of her.
While the book is described as a biography, it is written entirely in the first person and is in fact a transcription of recordings made by Ailsa, fact checked by Ms Cull and published in toto.
The book simply cries out for the services of a good editor. Grammatical solecisms abound. Its is throughout used in the possessive case as its' (sic) Vocal speech transcribed seldom reads well and leads to phrases like 'where Granny Howard had lived in many years previously' (even more sic).
The book would have been immensely improved with the inclusion of a family tree. The cast is large and includes people called "'Uncle George', although we called him 'Jack', his real name was Andrew, my mother's maternal uncle who married a girl named Phyllis who lived with us." I'm sure I've got that wrong, but it's typical.
The actual production values of the book are poor. Printed by Kainos Print in the ACT, the book has no ISBN and the typography is appalling, even by the slack standards current. Amateurishly finished, this cannot be an example of Kainos' best work.
The truly fascinating photographs are printed four and even six to a page in a tiny format that required a magnifying glass for my old eyes.
In an autobiography it is excusable to use the word 'I' a good deal, but transferring the text into the third person would have made it far more readable and a lot less sounding like boasting.
Although let me be clear, Ailsa has a lot to boast about and this book is well worth buying and reading for its glimpse into times past and the development of Western Australia's cultural and social scene.
Copies of the 255 page paperback are available on Taz Entertainment's website or directly by email from the author, Denise M Cull M. Psych on email@example.com. Prices including postage and handing on enquiry.
Highly recommended for Ailsa's life story. Unfortunately the quality of the printed book is not of the same standard..