Presented by State Theatre Company and Malthouse
Reviewed 29th June, 2018
The audience of this landmark piece of Australian theatre is transported for ninety minutes or so from the bleak cold of an Adelaide winter’s night to the interminable steam and heat of Darwin in the Wet. In precise language delivered with just the right cadence and intensity, Jada Alberts’ script brings generalised problems into specific focus. The cast is formidable. Her direction, excellent. Dale Ferguson’s superb design keeps everyone honest.
As a meditation on the fallout from yet another young man’s suicide, this story is in no way unique. Yet there is humour and anger, the ebb and flow of a family in crisis, and the ring of truth in every scene. Dion Williams, as Ruben, the central character, gives an honest, open portrayal of a young man immobilised by a grief he can neither comprehend nor process. Williams allows free rein to Ruben’s fear, vulnerability, anger and confusion in the wake of his cousin’s recent suicide. Williams’ mastery of language rhythms and cadences ensures that we accept him and his predicament. While Ruben is out drinking alone, then baiting cops and any other authority figure he can find, his family and bail counsellor gather around to help him in various ways. His elder sister Adele is played by Leonie Whyman with bossy-boots affection – that potent amalgam of love and domination exemplified by so many indigenous Australian women. Whyman gets her just right. Nelson Baker plays Adele’s partner Jarrod, whose love for her extends to her brother and his inability to get over the suicide of his cousin. Jarrod has trouble making sense of Ruben’s inability to cope, and Baker endows Jarrod with a gaucheness containing equal parts affection and frustration.
As a condition of Ruben’s parole, he must have regular counselling sessions. Trevor Jamieson, as counsellor David, holds dual positions in Ruben’s life, being both an official and a friend of his family. Counselling sessions are resented and avoided. David is harangued, in a particularly fine piece of writing early on in the play, by a defensive, irate Ruben. Jamieson’s persona shines through in this role – his energy and inner strength is more than sufficient for Dion Williams’ brutal Ruben. Aunty Petra (Lisa Flanagan) comes to visit Adele, and Aunty’s knowledge, authority, immovable affection and equally implacable intolerance of stupidity have a huge impact on Ruben. With a lesser actor, Aunty Petra would be a caricature. With Flanagan, she’s the strongest voice for love and endurance.
Of particular excellence is a soundscape which underpins both action and language. Kelly Ryall, composer and sound designer, uses a range of white noise, rain and subtle music to fine dramatic effect. His disruptive scene-change sounds put me in mind of the Cleverman sound track. And that’s praise.
As the plot of this charming, alarming and very topical play unfolds, it teaches us love and forbearance, it reminds us that every grief is different, and that we all need each other. This is not an Aboriginal play. It does not deal with indigenous issues. It’s all about humans. I remember when I first saw Jimmy Chi’s Bran Nue Dae. Same feeling. This is landmark national theatre, big-hearted enough to convey a bucket of inconvenient truths to our whole nation. We sideline it as “indigenous theatre” at our peril.
Review by Pat. H. Wilson
Venue: Odeon Theatre, Norwood
Season: 29th June – 14th July, 2018
Tickets: Full Price: $74:00 Concession: $29:00
Bookings: www.statetheatrecompany.com.au. / 131 246
Photo credit: Tim Grey