Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jul 23 – Aug 25, 2018
Playwright: H Lawrence Sumner
Director: Neil Armfield
Cast: Jada Alberts, Wayne Blair, Nicholas Brown, Brodi Cubillo, Melissa Jaffer, Ningali Lawford-Wolf, Wesley Patten, Justin Smith, Ian Wilkes
Images by Heidrun Löhr
King Tulla’s remains are being flown back to Australia, after having been detained in England for three generations. His grandson Jeremiah is required to preside over the welcome home ceremony, but the prospect of having to deal with buried trauma and lost family histories, sees him unravelling, as he comes to grips with all that his emotions have struggled to face. There are few stories as profound and important for us today, as H Lawrence Sumner’s The Long Forgotten Dream. It explores the crippling effect of colonialism, on our Indigenous peoples, as well as the paradoxical urgency of their need to recover, to foster a brighter future. Sumner is marvellously revelatory of the Aboriginal experience, splendid in his clarity of language and of thought, for a piece of writing extraordinary for the power it dispenses, and for the wisdom that it contains.
Director Neil Armfield brings palpable life to this tale of lost souls and transposed dimensions. We are moved by the production’s remarkable tenderness, evident in every delicate aspect that it presents on stage. Live music by William Barton is ethereal but incredibly precise, with a spiritual quality that has us responding in accordance with each of its enigmatic inclinations. Jacob Nash’s set design keeps us enthralled, speaking to us as though on a visceral or perhaps instinctive level, in varieties of shapes and proportions, carrying us from space to space. Mark Howett’s sensual lighting style is relied upon to add warmth to the family drama, and gravity to our national concerns. Technical elements of The Long Forgotten Dream are inventive in their conception, and sumptuously executed.
It is an exquisite cast that takes the stage, with leading man Wayne Blair delivering phenomenal intensity and poignancy, to anchor the show in an unyielding point of pertinence. He couples vulnerability with dignity, ensuring that we are moved by Jeremiah’s circumstances and more vitally, by all the wider injustices implied in the depiction of his suffering. It must also be noted that Blair’s whimsical approach to humour is deeply endearing, and a crucial factor in allowing us to identify with a personality that can seem a world away from most of our daily realities. Also very charming is Ningali Lawford-Wolf, who plays Jeremiah’s sister Lizzie, a sassy, bold presence dependable for introducing a vibrant luminosity with every entrance. Jada Alberts is suitably subtle and thoroughly convincing as Jeremiah’s daughter Simone, and Melissa Jaffer is captivating in a somewhat surprising way, when she conveys so effortlessly, the romantic secrets of a 102-year-old woman.
The refusal to listen, may be our biggest pitfall. We can make repetitive and incessant claims of good intentions, but our inability to actually prioritise the needs and demands of Indigenous communities, will only serve to sustain these unacceptable state of affairs. When we think about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestral remains and sacred objects being controlled by colonising forces and their institutions, it becomes obvious the degree to which Australia denies the sovereignty of its First Nations. The inequity and, in some cases, inhumanity, they have had to tolerate, can only begin to find atonement when we are able to place their welfare at the very forefront of the national agenda, on equal footing with, if not ahead of, our selfish and exclusionary obsessions.