Theatre Review: Holy Day

World renowned Australian playwright, Andrew Bovell, tells a powerful, confronting story of our past and the treatment – or rather mistreatment – of Aboriginals by the white settlers.

Presented by University of Adelaide Theatre Guild
Reviewed 8 October 2013

With Holy Day, world renowned Australian playwright (now living in South Australia), Andrew Bovell, tells a powerful, confronting story of our past and the treatment – or rather mistreatment – of Aboriginals by the white settlers. His play is well crafted and threaded with other important issues such as abuse, rape and the Irish/English question. It is somewhat of a puzzle why the play is not performed more often and excluded from high school reading lists, such is its importance to our history and modern day thinking.

John Graham’s production, under the auspices of the University of Adelaide Theatre Guild, is also well crafted and paced but could be more powerful and certainly more confronting. At the moment it is a good night at the theatre, but Bovell’s script promises a lot more and Graham just misses out on delivering.

The whole thing seems somewhat sanitised, which is strange with the abundance of the ‘C-bomb’ and a brief glimpse of nudity in the first half: why not continue being confrontational and take the physical movements further, rather than subduing potential fights and politely chaining people to trees, (not to mention the worst fake stage slap ever).

However Holy Days comes beautifully to life on Normajeane Ohlsson’s wonderful Australian outback set, and when coupled with Richard Parkhill’s evocative lighting design, is highly reminiscent of an Albert Namatjira painting.

Although Graham hasn’t quite served up power in the action, he certainly has achieved it with his casting. Cate Rogers as Irish innkeeper, Nora Ryan, takes charge of every scene she is in, delivering an ideal amount of toughness and kindness throughout; as ex-convict Goundry, Brant Eustice gives a good performance, but seems too understated and perhaps even restricted by direction; Fiona Lardner seems to channel Lindy Chamberlain’s aloofness perfectly as the missionary’s wife whose baby has gone missing; Carissa Lee (Obedience), Nicolle Orr (Linda) and Matt Houston (Samuel Epstein) all perform well; whilst Steve Marvanek gives what could be his strongest performance to date, as the steadfast, logical farmer Thomas Wakefield.

This reviewer was once given the title of the ‘bravest actor in Adelaide”, but gladly now hands that honour to Robert Bell – his portrayal of sixteen year old Edward Cornelius is not only brave, but extremely compelling. Bell is one of those gifted actors that can tell all without ever uttering a word.

Though it plays it a little safe, this version of Holy Day is worth seeing and should make one wonder about the stock we as a nation descended from. If it’s not spoken about, it can’t be history – Bovell, Graham and the cast are telling us about it!

Reviewed by Brian Godfrey

Venue: Little Theatre The Cloisters (off Victoria Drive), University of Adelaide
Season: 5-19 October 2013
Duration: 2 hours (including interval)
Tickets: $23.00 – $28.00
Bookings: Online through the University of Adelaide Theatre Guild or through BASS, phone 131 246


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