Ray Lawler won first prize in a minor play competition in Melbourne, Australia, for his Cradle of Thunder and wrote nine plays before becoming internationally famous with Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. He shared first prize, worth about two hundred dollars, for Summer of the Seventeenth Doll in a competition sponsored by the Playwrights Advisory Board in 1955. The Doll, as it is known among Australian theater aficionados, was one of 130 plays submitted for judging. It shared first prize with a play by Oriel Gray, The Torrents, and served as Lawler’s catapult to fame. With this play, he almost single-handedly revolutionized Australian theater, bringing it out of its previous lethargy.
Prior to the production of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, there had been a feeling in Australia that the homegrown dramatic product was inferior to foreign drama. It was largely because of the unparalleled international success of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll that Australian theater enjoyed a spectacular period of growth throughout the late 1950’s and during the next two decades. Today, Australian theater is produced throughout the English-speaking world, and even in non-English-speaking countries. With his play, which won the Evening Standard Award for Best Play in 1957, Lawler helped to stimulate Australians to a fuller appreciation of their own culture, not only in terms of theater but also in other fields of artistic endeavor, such as literature, music, and the plastic arts.
Bartholomeuz, Dennis. “Theme and Symbol in Contemporary Australian Drama: Ray Lawler to Louis Nowra.” In Drama and Symbolism, edited by James Redmond. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1982. The author believes that “the pronounced anti-intellectual strain in Australian life” is glamorized in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll; images of flying eagles are incongruous with the “drab necessities of urban employment.” Cites Lawler’s own comments on the de-emphasis of plot in favor of characterization. Sees the play as “the tragedy of those who are made inarticulate by words.”
Brisbane, Katharine. “Beyond the Backyard.” In Australia Plays. London: Walker Books, 1989. An anthology of five new Australian plays, all of which owe a debt, according to Brisbane’s introductory essay, to Lawler’s “The Doll, as it came to be called.” Brisbane sees an irony that “the backbone of Australian drama is its Irish sensibility to language, rhythm, humour and logic.” The play “is an almost perfect example of the conventional three-act form.”
Fitzpatrick, Peter. After “The Doll”: Australian Drama Since 1955. Melbourne: Edward Arnold, 1979. A strong chapter on Lawler sets out the argument for a decline in quality from The Doll to the two plays completing the trilogy, Kid Stakes and Other Times. While The Doll was precedent setting, it was not altogether “helpful,” as it “left an inheritance which had partly to be lived down.”
Hooton, Joy. “Lawler’s Demythologizing of The Doll: Kid Stakes and Other Times.” Australian Literary Studies 12 (May, 1986): 335-346. Examines the “retrospective” plays following The Doll and finds that the ambiguities of The Doll have been reconciled in the sequels. “Reformed text is much more thematically consistent, although far less richly suggestive” than the earlier play, the author states. Finds it less concerned with outback values, more a psychological than “a universally relevant study of the effects of time.”
Rees, Leslie. The Making of Australian Drama: A Historical and Critical Survey from the 1830’s to the 1970’s. London: Angus and Robertson, 1973. In a chapter called “The Trust, The Doll, and the Break-through,” the history of Lawler’s relationship with the theater world is told. Photographs including ones of Lawler as Barney. Index and bibliography.