Exit Left: Memoirs of a Scarlet Woman by Oriel Gray


Centenary Second Edition (2020) – Paperback



Set against a backdrop of the turbulent 1940s, in Exit Left, Oriel tells the story of her association with Sydney’s left-wing New Theatre – where creativity and revolutionary ideals fuse into ‘plays with a purpose’

Armed with enthusiasm and talent, ‘Comrade Oriel’ seems destined for an illustrious role centre stage…but for her lingering doubts about the Communist Party line…and her equally troubling bohemian ways…and then there’s Johnny Hepworth.

With an introduction by Michelle Arrow, this edition of Exit Left was released to mark the centenary of Oriel’s life. Oriel Gray wrote for the Australian stage, radio and television for over fifty years.


In the late 1930s, Oriel and her sister Grayce joined Sydney’s New Theatre, an affiliate organisation of the Australian Communist Party. In the Party, they found their devoted Labor Party father’s socialist ideals echoed and amplified through stage plays from American New Wave playwrights.

Oriel is moved to support the socialist Government of the Spanish Second Republic and its idealistic citizen army allies, the International Brigade, in the ill-fated struggle against the military coup led by General Franco and his Fascist allies. Widespread hostilities in Europe seem inevitable though, true to the Party line, the sisters remain disdainful of the significance of any outcome of ‘a capitalist war’, despite their anti Fascist convictions.

Oriel’s faith in Party dogma is shaken with the signing of a non-aggression pact between Hitler and Stalin, and with it the changing public attitude to those on the Left. It is only with the opening of the Eastern front, following Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, that the young women and their comrades can feel united once again with their fellow citizens, in the battle against fascist totalitarianism.

Predictions of a stellar career follow Oriel’s appointment as the first New Theatre ‘playwright in residence.’ However, her increasing political doubts and unconventional bohemian ways lead to questions of moral and ideological weakness from conservative Party officials.

By the end of a tumultuous decade with both the Communist Party and far Left unions deserting the Chifley Labor government’s bid for re-election, and romantic partners proving equally unreliable allies, Oriel must act on her belief in personal responsibility, for herself and her actions.

Along the way, a cast of comrades, lovers and historical figures live again in a lively, honest and always entertaining autobiography.

Part social history, part political record, part romance tell-all. Exit Left is a loving tribute to the power and importance of live theatre, from a woman who claimed to have lived “a wryly amusing life”.


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