Ballad opera (in two acts).
The lively and light-hearted story concerns a rich uncle (Sir Samuel Simile) who mistakenly believes that his nephew is going to marry a 'native' girl when the lad is in fact to marry Susan Hearty - a currency lass (white girl born in Australia). The uncle is put through a good deal of torment before being told of his error.
Geoghegan wrote The Currency Lass for Tilly Jones, a popular young actress who was also among the first citizens to be born in Australia. There is, however, no record of her ever having appeared in any of the three 1844 Victoria Theatre productions. Although now recognised as historically significant, The Currency Lass did not fare as well as other productions presented by Samuel Lazar at the Royal Victoria during the same year. More popularly received, for example, were plays such as Humphrey Clinker (farce), Twins of Warsaw, Sworn at Highgate, The Beehive (musical farce), The Executioner, Aladdin, Turning the Tables, and Geoghegan's big success, The Hibernian Father.
The fourteen songs used in the original production had new lyrics set to pre-existing tunes, as is traditionally the case with the ballad opera style (see note below). The melodies used were mostly from traditional Irish, English or Scottish songs, with the choice of material sometimes undertaken with a degree of deliberate humour. In his preface to the 1976 Currency edition Roger Covell points for example to the air 'A Fine Old English Gentleman' (the melody comes from an Irish dialect song) which Geoghegan uses to recall the supposed golden age of English gentry. Covell also suggests that the actor playing the role of Susan requires agility and accuracy in both her singing and dancing (these are sometimes required with much vigour at the same time). This is particularly the case in a pivotal scene in Act Two where she performs a sequence of five characterised songs and dances. Although many of the songs used by Geoghegan are no longer well-known, several tunes are still reasonably recognisable today - these being, 'Malbrook' (a French melody used by English-speaking people when they sing 'For He's a Jolly Good Fellow'); 'Over the Hills and Far Away' (from John Gay's The Beggar's Opera); and 'The Lincolnshire Poacher' (its melody is also used for the Australian folksong, 'The Murrumbidgee Shearer').
The 1966 Jane Street production was part of a trilogy of plays used to launch the company's season of Australian drama. The other two plays were I've Come about the Assassination by Tony Morphett, and The Pier by Michael Thomas. All three plays utilised members of the same company. The 1989 Q Theatre production, which kept the lighthearted, comic feel of Geoghegan's original, cast Aboriginal actor Justine Saunders in the role of the bigoted uncle, Samuel Similie, in an attempt to re-orientate Goeghegan's theme towards one of race. The stage also featured a ground plan of Aboriginal dots and circle motifs.
The Currency Lass has been described in generic terms as musical play, operetta and even opera. Although Roger Covell argues that the term musical play 'communicates a better idea today of the nature of [the work] and would have been understood in the eighteen-forties in much the same way... [particularly as] 'ballad opera' was no longer a current theatrical term' (xvi), the insertion of traditional and popular songs into a work of drama, as The Currency Lass does, invites too close a comparison to the ballad opera genre to be ignored.
1844 : Royal Victoria Theatre, Sydney ; 27-28 May, 4 June. Mngr. John Lazar. - Cast incl. Mr Fenton (Samuel Simile), J. G. Griffiths (Harry Hearty), Mr James (Edward Stanford), Mme Louise (Susan Hearty), Joseph Simmons (Lanty O'Liffey), Mrs Wallace (Jenny), Mrs Torning (Miss Dormer).
1966 : Jane Street Theatre, Sydney ; 1-15 October. Dir. Robin Lovejoy ; Des. David Copping. - Cast incl. Gaye Anderson (Susan), Martin Harris (Harry), Edward Hepple (Samuel), Beverley Kirk (Catherine Dormer), Ross Thompson (Edward), Anthony Thurbon (Lanty) Anne Bannon (Jenny).
1989 : Q Theatre, Penrith (NSW) ; 26 August - ca. September. Dir. Egil Kipste ; Music Dir. Robert Gavin ; Music Arr. Roger Covell ; Des. D4 Design (Michael Scott- Mitchell) ; Lighting. Mark Shelton. - Cast: Laurence Clifford, Melinda Marcellos, Luciano Martucci, Michelle Pettigrove, Justine Saunders, Carman Tanti, Michael Turkic.