Opening to great reviews last week, the Adelaide Repertory Theatre has presented a revival of William Gibson’s Tony Award Winning classic, The Miracle Worker – which tells the true story of how Helen Keller, rendered deaf and blind from infancy, learnt how to effectively communicate with others and fully understand the wider world around her. In the process of doing so, her relationship with feisty and determined tutor Annie Sullivan, develops from an adversarial rivalry into a lifelong friendship. Both women would go on to be writers and social activists of great renown, whose pioneering work in championing the rights of women, the disabled and the mentally ill have inspired generations.
Set in 1880s Alabama, when less was known about treatment of mental health and care for the disabled was not accorded the serious regard that it is today, The Miracle Worker offers fascinating insights into how far medical science and social attitudes have come over the last 132 years, and also, perhaps, how far it has yet to go, given the staying power of certain enduring prejudices. Much of what the play has to say about family dynamics and the importance of education in shaping the psychological development of a child remain timeless, as relevant to a modern audience as they were when Gibson first wrote the play in 1957. Sullivan’s efforts to achieve an independent and fulfilling career as a teacher, in the face of much social scepticism with regards to her defiance of traditional gender roles, are also likely to strike a chord with many theatregoers, given the tone of current media debate about the role of women in the workplace.
But for all its deeper layers of meaning, The Miracle Worker is a fundamentally human story which contains many surprising moments of incidental humour, as people from very different backgrounds learn to understand each other, and the ultimate message is one of hope for the future. This is a work that believes in the power to engage both the mind and the heart equally.
Discover the wonders of this piece for yourself at the Arts Theatre from April 10 – 13. Get your tickets here.