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A twisted Hemingway tale
A twisted Hemingway tale

The hunter becomes the hunted in a suburban backyard stalked by a gang of ugly wives.

Hard-living Nobel Laureate Ernest Hemingway was obsessed with fishing, hunting, fighting, drinking and women. Oh, and he could write a bit, too.

Local director Zoe Pepper taps a rich seam of inspiration for The Wives of Hemingway, a surreal, twisted, dark comic theatre production presented in a garden converted into a Cuban tiki bar.

Hemingway had four wives and he blamed each one for the breakdown of his previous marriage. This, and the lurid circumstances of Hemingway's love life and his obsession with death and violence, has provided Pepper and her co-creators with their cues for the show.

"His freshly ex-wives seemed to go to great lengths to try to win him back," Pepper says. "I was curious about what a man would do to a woman to put her into that state where she does irrational things to try to win him back."

Hemingway's second wife, Vogue fashion editor Pauline Pfeiffer, had plastic surgery, an extreme procedure in the 1930s, in a vain attempt to win him back.

As American author Paula McLain wrote recently, for 40 serially semi-monogamous years, Hemingway plunged like a half-blinded bull from the disastrous end of one marriage to the heady, precipitous beginning of the next.

"I sometimes think of him as Spider-Man, swinging through the hazard-strewn cataract of a metropolitan avenue, detaching from the skyscraper behind him only when firmly suckered onto the one ahead," McLain wrote.

It is fertile ground for a comically tragic tale in which a delusional, paranoid older "Papa" Hemingway romanticises his earlier relationships, Pepper says.

Perceptions shift as each wife becomes the demonised "ex" and they shift from being played by the actress Adriane Daff to being portrayed by cross-dressing actors Tim Watts and Josh Price, all smeared lipstick, big wigs and hell-bent on revenge.

The wives club then go hunting for some big game of their own.

"We are combining the paranoid delusional imaginings of this old man with stories of his earlier life. It is more about the wife having the power of the man rather than the focus on these ugly women who hunt him down," Pepper says.

The Wives of Hemingway combines the talents of two of Perth's most acclaimed independent theatre companies, Pepper's Side Pony Productions (The Pride) and Watts' Weeping Spoon Productions (The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer).

Two Hemingway stories, his posthumous novel The Garden of Eden, an exploration of androgyny and male-female relationships, and his ill-fated safari short story The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, had helped give shape to the show, Pepper says.

"I am not some diehard Hemingway fan so I think that has led us to being quite irreverent with the subject matter," she says.

The Wives of Hemingway is at The Havana Special, 34 Elizabeth Street, North Perth, from February 8-16.