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Cover of Perth Repertory Program, 1948
y separately published work icon The First Joanna : A Play in Three Acts single work   drama   - Three acts, five scenes
Issue Details: First known date: 1943... 1943 The First Joanna : A Play in Three Acts
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AbstractHistoryArchive Description

In The First Joanna Dorothy Blewett explores Australia's acceptance of its convict heritage, tracing the fictional history of the Deverons, owners of a leading South Australian vineyard. The property, situated near the Onkaparinga River, was established in the early years of the colony by settler Stephen Deveron. The central characters of the play are the Joanna Millay, a young convict woman who becomes the matriarch of the Deverons, and Joanna Deveron, the wife of the second Stephen Deveron - the grandson of the first Joanna and the first Stephen Deveron.

The narrative begins on Joanna's birthday in 1945 and introduces the Deveron family. Joanna has only recently arrived at the vineyard and is still suffering from the effects of several years spent as a prisoner of war in Poland. Joanna and Stephen had married in England shortly before the outbreak of war but were forced apart after she became trapped behind enemy lines. Having led a peripatetic upbringing in Europe Joanna finds the dull monotony of life on the vineyard unbearable and is thinking of returning to Europe. Her love of Stephen is making the decision all the more painful.

When Stephen's maiden aunts give her a chair belonging to their mother, Joanna is at first horrifed by the thought of its staid existence. She at first can't bear think about it, but after discovering within the chair a set of diaries written by the first Joanna she becomes fascinated. The diaries reveal a life of trauma, loss, murder, illegitimacy, and eventually, triumph through love. Through her reading of the diaries the play's dramatic action segues into "interpolated scenes" depicting key moments in the lives of Stephen's forebears during the nineteenth century - 1837, 1849, 1862, 1871, and 1885. The diaries ultimately allow the contemporary Joanna the capacity to imagine a future at the vineyard with the man she truly loves.

In an interview with Coralie Clarke Rees on Sydney ABC radio on 8 March, 1948, Blewett described the play as:

"It's the story of a modern English girl called Joanna who marries an Australian wine-grower and comes to live in his family home in South Australia. There she finds the narrow insistence on family respectability stifling, and she is about to leave to place when she discovers the diary of the first Joanna who built the home and pioneered the vineyard. In it she reads that the woman who established this respectable successful family had been a convict girl from Tasmania. The first Joanna was a vivid courageous person who had lived dangerously. She appeals tat once to the imagination and the loyalty of the second Joanna who had been repelled by the smug legends about the old pioneer: and the young Joanna Becomes proud to belong to a family with such an honourably shady past." 




MRS COLLINS who “obliges” at Chateau Deveron


JOCELYN CUMING Stephen’s second cousin

HALLEY VAN DRUYTEN Captain in the United States Army

EDITHA AND VIOLA DEVERON Stephen’s twin great-aunts, aged 92

JACKSON the chauffeur


SIR BERTRAM TAVENER Governor of a women's jail in Tasmania



CAPTAIN JULES SMITH of the British Army, aged 29

STEPHEN DEVERON 1st, aged 22

JOANNA MILLAY the first Joanna, aged 17


STEPHEN aged 34






Joanna and Stephen's children:













form y separately published work icon The First Joanna 1948 Australia : ABC Radio National , 1948 17027626 1948 single work radio play

Set in post-World War II South Australia, the homecoming of the second Joanna is soured by the close-knit and guarded Deveron family. Feeling as if she can’t connect with the present, and questing her reasons for staying, Joanna turns to the past after discovering a set of diaries from her husband's grandmother, the first Joanna. The dairies reveal the skeletons in the Deveron family’s closet. They also help her decide her future.

form y separately published work icon The First Joanna Australia : Australian Broadcasting Commission , 1961 9292107 1961 single work film/TV

'[Blewett's] play, The First Joanna, is the story of two women bearing the same name but who are born a century apart. Flashback to the colonial era provides the link to the story.

'The modern Joanna is a restless, sophisticated English woman married to the owner of a vineyard in South Australia. The first Joanna is the pioneer. Her story unfolds through entries in a diary discovered in an old chair.'

Source: 'Tale of Two Women–Aust. TV Drama', The Age [TV/Radio Supplement], 17-23 February 1961, p.2.


  • A number of versions of The First Joanna are held at the Fryer Library, University of Queensland. The versions, although mostly undated, range from approximately 1943 to the 1950s and represent the various revisions.
  • In his contribution to the The Cambridge Companion to Australian Literature, Richard Fotheringham notes that Blewett had taken a "dramaturgically fresh approach to the perennially popular subject of Australian Colonial history ('Theatre from 1788 to the 1960s,' p.154).

    Reviews of each the productions staged during 1948 were typically positive. Frank Van Straten records, for example, that the Adelaide Repertory Society's version at the Tivoli Theatre was the highlight of that year's repertoire (Her Majesty's Pleasure: A Centenary Celebration for Adelaide's Theatre of the Stars).

  • The first draft of the play is believed to have been written in the early 1940s, shortly after the author had completed Quiet Night. It's first public performance was a rehearsed reading in Sydney in 1943, two years before the end of the war. This suggests that some aspects of the play would have been markedly different from 1947 version.

    Details regarding the rehearsed reading were discovered in 2016 by Bryan Bartlett, a University of Queensland student undertaking Practices of Performance B (DRAM2210) - the course included a short season of The First Joanna at the Geoffrey Rush Studios. See 'Lectures." Sydney Morning Herald 23 October 1943, p.13).

    Bartlett also notes that the Campbell Howard Annotated Index of Australian Plays 1920-1955 records a first known date of 1941, citing Debra Adelaide's Australian Women Writers : A Bibliographic Guide as its source. That publication does not, however, provide any details regarding its source for the year 1941.

  • Blewett revised The First Joanna again when she was living in London during the 1950s. Although she promoted the play widely during her time in the country no English productions of the play have yet been identified. Maxwell Wray optioned it for a West End production but this never eventuated. The above abstract pertains to the mid-1950s version.
  • J. C. Williamson's Ltd reportedly optioned the rights to the play for the Australasian region in the early to mid-1940s but did not undertake any productions. The rights eventually reverted back to Blewett which allowed her to enter the play in the 1947 Playwrights' Advisory Board Competition.
  • Blewett received 75 pounds in prize money for winning the Playwrights Advisory Board competition.
  • Several versions of The First Joanna are held at the Fryer Library, The University of Queensland Library. These manuscript date from the early-1940s to the mid-1950s. Significant changes occur across the versions in terms of character and the ending of the play - especially that relating to the character of the second Joanna. The earliest extant version of the play also had the 'contemporary' setting as 1939.
  • The author's name spelt 'Blewitt' in some reviews.

Production Details

  • 1943: 38 Clarence Street, Sydney; 24 October [rehearsed reading]

    • Producer Fellowship of Australian Writers

    1948: Metropolitan Theatre, Reiby Place, Sydney; 12 March 1948 [world premiere]

    • Director May Hollinworth; Producer Metropolitan Theatre Company; Designer Robin Lovejoy.
    • Cast: John Bushelle (Stephen Deveron), Wanda Herbert (Viola Deveron), Betty Lucas (Edith Deveron), John Meillon (Phillip Deveron), Lynne Murphy (Jocelyn Cuming), Dinah Shearing (Joan Deveron), Lola Sweeney (Joanna Millay), Marcel Wattel (Captain Smith), Bea Wenban (Mrs Collins).

    1948: Tivoli Theatre, Adelaide; 28 August 1948

    • Director Beryl Roberts; Producer Adelaide Repertory Theatre Incorporated.
    • Cast: Vivienne Oldfield, Heather Duncan, Meta McCaffrey, Gene Roeger, Phyllis Simpson, Mary Mitchell, Betty Tucker, Kath Venning, Judith Hodge, Elizabeth Campbell, Esther Lipman, Leonard Turner, Douglas Sweetman, Jeff Leak, Richard Croger, Stuart Darby, Robert Perry, Geoff Brown

    1948: Repertory Theatre, Perth; 1-4, 8-11 December

    • Director Marjory Steele Smith; Producer Perth Repertory Society.
    • Cast included: Margaret Wiseman (1st Joanna), Peggy Nunn (2nd Joanna), David Bradley (Steven Deveron), James Kemp, Chris Neale, Gertrude Miller, Terry Atkinson, Coralie Condon, Des Howard, and others.
    • Note: there is an error in the introduction by 'C. G.' 

    1948: Rechabite Hall, St Peters, Adelaide; 14-17 December 1949.

    • Producer St. Peters Community Players.

    1954: Stanthorpe Repertory Society, Stanthorpe, Queensland.

    • Produced by Bert Ouston as a part of the Back to Stanthorpe Week in October 1954. Review in The Stanthorpe Border Post, Tuesday October 12, 1954. The plays is described as 'one of the greatest attractions of the Back to Stanthorpe Week.'
    • Cast included: Jean Collins as the first Joanna

    1961: Nowra (New South Wales) January 1961.

    • Producer Nowra Players.

    1967: Presented at The Green Room, Manchester, UK. 17 November 1967.

    • Director John Buysman
    • Information from a review in the UK newspaper: The Stage and Television Today, 23 November 1967.
    • Playscript in the Lord Chamberlain's Plays Collection at the British Library - sighted 27 September 2018. Agents are listed on cover - Alldridge & Davis, 40 Oulton Ave, Sale, Cheshire. Ph: SAL 8117

    2016: Geoffrey Rush Drama Studio, The University of Queensland; 1-4 June.

    • Director Sue Rider; Producer UQ Drama.
    • The performance was attended by members of Dorothy Blewett's family.

    NB: AusStage records that The First Joanna was produced at the Theatre Royal, Hobart in 1948 (no date is given). The source for this information is an advertisement that appears in the Hobart Theatre Guild's programme for Richard of Bordeaux (held by the Seaborn Broughton and Walford Foundation). That play was staged at the Theatre Royal between 1 and 8 May 1948, and later played Launceston (June). A search of Tasmanian newspapers for 1948 using Trove (the Australian National Library's digital newspaper service) has so far failed to locate any theatrical production of the play anywhere in the state in 1948 or any year afterwards.

Publication Details of Only Known VersionEarliest 2 Known Versions of

      Melbourne, Victoria,: 1943 .
      image of person or book cover 4809822614909311916.jpg
      Extent: 3 actsp.
      (Manuscript) assertion
      • This is the earliest known version of the manuscript. It must have been completed before the rehearsed reading of The First Joanna which was advertised for the 23rd of October 1943.
      Melbourne, Victoria,: 1947 .
      image of person or book cover 5121524373920711606.jpg
      Extent: 3 actsp.
      (Manuscript) assertion
      • This version of The First Joanna won the Playwrights' Advisory Board prize in 1947 and was subsequently produced for ABC radio and on stage in 1948 by the Metropolitan Theatre.

Works about this Work

Memory and Place: History Plays Contesting the Past Susan Pfisterer , Carolyn Pickett , 1999 single work criticism
— Appears in: Playing with Ideas : Australian Women Playwrights from the Suffragettes to the Sixties 1999; (p. 222-247)
Saga of Early Days in Australia 1967 single work review
— Appears in: The Stage and Television Today , 23 November 1967; (p. 20)

'The Australian author of The First Joanna died last year, and it has found its way to Manchester and first production by the Green Room Theatre, through a journalist who was visiting Melbourne.' (Introduction)

Flashback to a Diary 1961 single work single work review
— Appears in: TV Times , 29 April 1961; (p. 12)

Sub-header: The courage of a pioneer woman reaches across the years to her modern namesake in Channel 2's next gripping live play. 

An article about the forthcoming ABC TV production of The First Joanna, describing the plot and characters.

The First Joanna 1956 single work advertisement
— Appears in: The ABC Weekly , 28 January 1956; (p. 21)
'The First Joanna' : Repertory's Great Success Arthur A. Rose , 1954 single work review
— Appears in: The Stanthorpe Border Post , 12 October 1954;

— Review of The First Joanna : A Play in Three Acts Dorothy Blewett , 1943 single work drama
Drama in Sydney Leslie Rees , 1948 single work review
— Appears in: Australian Quarterly , June vol. 20 no. 2 1948; (p. 124-125)

— Review of The First Joanna : A Play in Three Acts Dorothy Blewett , 1943 single work drama
Australian Period Piece 1948 single work review
— Appears in: The Bulletin , 17 March vol. 69 no. 3553 1948; (p. 18)

— Review of The First Joanna : A Play in Three Acts Dorothy Blewett , 1943 single work drama
Repertory Club Success 1948 single work review
— Appears in: The West Australian , 2 December 1948; (p. 8)

— Review of The First Joanna : A Play in Three Acts Dorothy Blewett , 1943 single work drama

A review of the 1948 Perth Repertory Theatre production (Repertory Theatre, beginning 1 December).

Family Drama in New Prize Play 1948 single work review
— Appears in: The Sydney Morning Herald , 13 March 1948; (p. 9)

— Review of The First Joanna : A Play in Three Acts Dorothy Blewett , 1943 single work drama

A review of the world premiere production of Dothy Blewett's The First Joanna (Metropolitan Theatre, Sydney; 12 March).

Repertory Society Performance 1954 single work review
— Appears in: Warwick Daily News , 9 October 1954;

— Review of The First Joanna : A Play in Three Acts Dorothy Blewett , 1943 single work drama
Not For Publication Warrigal Jack , 1948 single work column
— Appears in: The Australasian Book News and Literary Journal , February vol. 2 no. 8 1948; (p. 412)
Memory and Place: History Plays Contesting the Past Susan Pfisterer , Carolyn Pickett , 1999 single work criticism
— Appears in: Playing with Ideas : Australian Women Playwrights from the Suffragettes to the Sixties 1999; (p. 222-247)
Saturday's Programme News : Repertory 1949 single work column
— Appears in: The Age , 12 May 1949; (p. 12)
Stage Play Competition 1947 single work column
— Appears in: Sydney Morning Herald , 11 December 1947;

The Sydney Morning Herald announces Dorothy Blewett, the writer of 'The First Joanna' as the winner of the 1947 Stage Play Competition from the Playwrights Advisory Board. Column further comments on Blewett's writing in 'The First Joanna'.

Play Award to Victorian 1947 single work column
— Appears in: The Sydney Morning Herald , 16 December 1947;
Last amended 7 Aug 2019 12:58:51