Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Darlinghurst NSW), Aug 19 – Sep 23, 2022
Playwright: Dylan Van Den Berg
Director: Declan Greene, Amy Sole
Cast: Callan Purcell, Guy Simon
Images by Brett Boardman
It was the dawn of colonisation, somewhere on this land now known as Australia. Teenagers Neddy and Ty, mountain mob and river mob respectively, would meet at every moon to exchange information, on what the white man is up to, as indications point to their presence beginning to seem a threatening one. Dylan Van Den Berg’s sensational new play, Whitefella Yella Tree tells a multi-faceted story of great importance, with scintillating humour, extraordinary tenderness, and shattering poignancy. Everything one could possibly ask of a playwright, Van Den Berg delivers, through the greatest of acuity and sophistication.
As a work of romance, Whitefella Yella Tree is likely one of the most moving pieces to encounter. Its narrative ventures into the sweetest terrains of innocent young love, only to deal a devastating blow, when it all goes wrong, for two characters we had fallen hopelessly for, from the very first minute. Furthermore, politically, and socially, what the play is able to articulate, are perhaps some of the most pertinent and urgent messages of our time, presented with unparalleled clarity, yet bears the elegance necessary to make the tough pill easy to swallow.
Van Den Berg demonstrates the real power of theatre, as a communal space of imagination and creativity, capable of creating meaning, understanding and consensus. Away from the grips of capitalism, in auditoriums still deemed to be sacred, we congregate to share vulnerabilities and seek truths, and in the case of Whitefella Yella Tree it all happens in only 90 magical minutes.
Declan Greene and Amy Sole are co-directors, marvellous at turning word to flesh, so that we can be thoroughly immersed with all our senses, into the astonishing world of Neddy and Ty, and everything their story represents. Greene and Sole bring incredible detail to the presentation, with resonances to be discovered everywhere our attention resides. The show says so much yet, quite incredibly, Greene and Sole ensure that we are able to absorb it all, helping us form comprehension about each and every issue being raised. Additionally, the show is full of irresistible charm, effortless at eliciting laughter and tears, for an experience as intense with the emotions it provokes, as it does the ideas it inspires.
Designed by Mason Browne, the set evokes our mountainscapes with little fuss, and makes a statement about territories being stolen, through a visual emphasis on the very portion of earth, on which the titular tree stands. Browne’s costumes are a delightful expression of Indigenous youth identities, choosing contemporary garb over speculations on what might have been, ironically brings authenticity to the personalities we meet. Lights by Kelsey Lee and Katie Sfetkidis, along with sound and music by Steve Toulmin, manufacture high drama for key revelatory moments, utilising the theatrical form to full effect, addressing both our instincts and intellect, in a show that requires us to think and feel, at every juncture.
Brilliantly performed by Callan Purcell as Ty, and Guy Simon as Neddy, the pair brings vigorous life to the stage, riotously mischievous at every opportunity. Bringing new meaning to the word “play” in a theatrical context, the two are infectious with their unbridled joy, as they discover the first pangs of passion and lust, in a decolonised tale about boys in love. As the story darkens, the gravity they introduce becomes unequivocally sombre and palpable, with a soulfulness that defies any attempt to disconnect, from all that they wish to impart.
The process of decolonisation may involve a conceptual returning to the times before, but it mostly involves reinvention and imagination. It requires that we interrogate values that are harmful to all who are Indigenous to this land, and seek ways to have them amended, remembering in the process that to address the injustice on Indigenous peoples, will always result in the aggregate progress of all on this land. We simply must no longer accept, that the displacement and disadvantaging of any minority, is a necessary evil for us to sustain a sense of nationhood. A new identity is being forged, and the colonial ways need to be eradicated.