I must admit when I first read about the murder case of The Pyjama Girl, the whole idea of creating a musical about it seemed a little…questionable. The title sounds sweetly innocent but the facts are not: in 1934 a young woman was found brutally murdered on the side of the road in Albury, New South Wales, wearing luxurious silk pyjamas with a Chinese dragon motif. She was instantly dubbed “The Pyjama Girl” by the press, causing a huge sensation in the public’s imagination, hungry for excitement during the Depression. Her body was preserved and put on public display in a formaldehyde bath at Sydney University, so that witnesses could come forward and identify the victim, but it also attracted fetish curiosity and voyeurism. This went on for a decade before her body was finally laid to rest.
The Pyjama Girl written by Stephen Goldrick and Steve Wood critiques the “insane indignity” surrounding the case, using vaudeville musical drama and murder ballads to recreate the morbid fascination with one of history’s most gruesome and compelling mysteries.
This well-researched and highly creative production co-directed by Goldrick and Alex Cuff delivers a story with a heart. It explores the story of Linda Agostini née Platt, an English Australian woman who worked in a candy store and at the cinema before marrying Tony Agostini, an Italian immigrant with dubious political connections. Tony confessed to murdering his wife and that she was the infamous Pyjama Girl. His murder charge was reduced to manslaughter, and he was freed after serving just three years of a six-year sentence.
However, whether the Albury victim was indeed the body of Linda Agostini remains equivocal to this day, with several inconsistencies in the anatomy of both victims. No matter that there were 124 other missing female victims on the list who were never thoroughly investigated, the public had its answer, and the case was closed.
The musical examines this colossal miscarriage of justice and gives a voice to the Pyjama Girl to ask “who am I?” Singing soprano, she flits about from character to character, including the priest who seems weirdly infatuated with her, to the lazy cop with his eye on retirement, to the shady husband who twists facts to suit a narrative that will set him free. The Pyjama Girl unravels the conspiracy one heart-stopping ballad at a time to bring them all to justice, creating an extraordinary arc from victim to heroine.
Presented by Players in Exile, the cast includes Blake Kovak as Tony Agostini, Stephen Goldrick as Commissioner Mackay, Babette Shaw as reporter Moya Stanley, Matthew Yuen as Father Francis Gee, Jessica Petersen Scott as The Assistant, and Julia Pierrette as an eerie doppelgänger as the Pyjama Girl. With euphonious tunes composed by musical director Steve Wood, aesthetic stage design by Asha Gold and fluid choreography by Scott, the power of this crowd-pleasing musical raises the spirits of the dead and sings what cannot be said.
The Pyjama Girl presented by Players in Exile is playing at Flight Path Theatre til 3 June 2023. For tickets and showtimes, go to https://events.humanitix.com/the-pyjama-girl
Images: Monique Lopez