Review: Kill The Messenger (Belvoir St Theatre)

belvoir1Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Feb 14 – Mar 8, 2015
Playwright: Nakkiah Lui
Director: Anthea Williams
Cast: Matthew Backer, Katie Beckett, Nakkiah Lui, Sam O’Sullivan, Lasarus Ratuere
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Nakkiah Lui has a sadness to share. Lui is a young Gamillaroi and Torres Strait Islander woman who has seen and experienced the extraordinary injustices suffered by our Aboriginal communities, and she brings a passionate commitment to the writing of a work that attempts to articulate the incredible complexities unique to our first Australians. She aims for truth on all fronts, because the need to expose history, emotions, hopes and confused turbulence is an urgent one, and it is clear that the expression and release of an inconceivable darkness is an imperative that resists any suppression. Lui’s script is a coherent but fragile one with seams that threaten to unravel at any moment. The difficulty of representing deep, personal wounds in text form is addressed directly in the play itself, with Lui speaking as its autobiographical protagonist and declaring the conundrum of maintaining authenticity in the process of creating a work for an audience. Indeed, the play is imperfectly structured, but its message is communicated with magnificent saliency and the poignancy it carries is exceptionally profound.

It is not the kind of presentation that provides solutions to our problems, because it works hard to avoid fiction. There is humour in much of the dialogue but the comedy is black, and the reality it makes us face is desperate and sombre. Kill The Messenger embodies a sorrow that is entrenched in many of our lands and its peoples, but it is never without hope. Lui’s fighting spirit is the loud voice that instigates every line and action, and it is one that refuses to surrender. Anthea Williams makes the right decision to place words at the very forefront of the show. Her directorial style is minimalist so that no theatrical factor is allowed to become an obfuscating agent, and all we can hear is the script, and consequently, all we see is the stark cruelty that some of our society is capable of. Performances, while not always consistent, are passionate and engaging. The strongest player is Lasarus Ratuere in the role of Paul, a tragic figure and an unfortunate stereotype perhaps, but depicted with sensitive nuance so that his humanity manifests infinitely larger than his faults. The actor’s work is impressively dynamic, with a surprising gravity barely hiding beneath an ability to portray hardship and misfortune in deceptive nonchalance. Also very moving is the playwright’s own presence on stage.  Lui can sometimes be overly animated in scenes with co-actors, but her many soliloquies are beautifully tuned. Her confidence is obvious, and her conviction, immense. When Lui speaks to (and confronts) us, her every intention and emotion reverberates, leaving us nowhere to hide.

Kill The Messenger is art at its most important and social activism at its most necessary. It is also a colourful and vibrant piece of theatre that has an irresistible power to captivate and engage. Nakkiah Lui’s work has all the bleak honesty of youth, but none of the pretension. Her play is barely resolved because she sees through the state of our affairs and recognises the dire plight that many of her sisters and brothers are living in. She does not pretend to know the way out, but her determination to find it is the foundation of this compelling work. We must cry, if only to acknowledge the undeniable grief that exists in the blood that pumps through the veins of this great continent, but afterwards, we will find clarity, if only in our hearts.