The Matriarchy of Renok

Staged reading from Norma Hemming’s ‘The Matriarchy of Renok’ at Aussiecon 4

For many attendees, the main event at Aussiecon 4 was not the Hugo Awards but a staged reading from Norma Hemming’s last play The Matriarchy of Renok, written in 1958 about a planet ruled by women.

It was an abridged version scripted and directed by author Sean McMullen with costumed readers and retro-1950s audiovisual effects by artist Lewis P Morley. Following is the text of a summary of the reading that was distributed in a flyer after the performance…

REaders on teh stage witth the video screen in theh backgroundLost after encountering a magnetic storm, astronaut Paul Carter lands his damaged spacecraft on the planet Renok, where women rule and men are kept as breeding stock to procreate with members of the “mother” class. The cock sure and over-sexed Carter makes advances to every woman he encounters, as well as fomenting rebellion among the males of the population.

Told that experiments in breeding female babies artificially have passed their final test, the Queen decrees that Carter will be executed but that the breeding males will be allowed to live out their lives and die of natural causes.

The Queen’s advisors warn that if one spacecraft can stumble on Renok others will follow. The Queen decides to use Renok’s advanced science to organize an underground resistance of women throughout the Galactic Federation and bring female rule to all civilized planets.

Close up of the stage at the reading of The Matriarchy of Renok at Aussiecon 4Using his dubious charms, Carter persuades two women and one man to help him escape, taking the Queen hostage in the process. Unknown to Carter, the ‘time shield’ in his spacecraft has been tampered with,so that several years have passed in real time by the time he arrives at Earth. He opens the door to his spacecraft, only to be confronted by constabulary, who take him prisoner. The Renok conspiracy has triumphed. The entire galaxy is now ruled by women, and Carter can only look forward to a celibate life in custody until he dies of old age.

Although some of the dialogue is dated by today’s standards, the play came across as surprisingly modern. The characters are strong and consistent, the stereotypes strident but appropriate, and the science fiction component quite advanced. The suggestion that lesbianism is probably the dominant sexual practice on Renok is avoided by implying that women would be above mere hormonal urges if men were removed – but the play was being performed in the 1950s, after all, when heterosexuality was compulsory. Telling men that they could eventually be dispensed with – and leaving them facing extinction at the end – was daring in 1958, but the play was obviously written as a light-hearted satire on relations between the sexes.

Visuals: The windows media animation was four minutes long. It was designed to play as a motion picture with paused segments to provide backgrounds for the play action.

Cast List:

Carter: Jetse de Vries (overseas) Queen: Cat Sparks (Sydney)
Halis: Ed McArdle (Melbourne) Freyna: Marilyn Pride (Sydney)
Narrator: Lewis Morley (Sydney) Rayna: Catherine McMullen (Melbourne)
Keril: Ann Poore (Melbourne)
MACHINE VOICES (‘Enhanced’ by an Electronic Distorter) Bill Wright (Melbourne) Janice Bryant: Miriam Eisfelder (Melbourne)

The staged reading was part of celebrations at Aussiecon 4 for inauguration of the Norma K Hemming Award.

Bill Wright – ASFF Awards Administrator