Review: City Of Gold (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), May 7 – Jun 11, 2022
Playwright: Meyne Wyatt
Director: Shari Sebbens
Cast: Mathew Cooper, St John Cowcher, Simone Detourbet, Ian Michael, Myles Pollard, Trevor Ryan, Meyne Wyatt
Images by Joseph Mayers

Theatre review
Breythe is trying to establish a career for himself as an actor, but when called home to Kalgoorlie, he is reminded that there are far more important things that require his attention. In Meyne Wyatt’s City of Gold, it is that tension between one’s need for personal fulfilment, and their responsibilities to community, that drives the story.

In Breythe’s case, being an Aboriginal man, makes that juxtaposition even more pronounced. For most of us, self-preservation involves compromises, when participating in dominant systems that control resource distribution in the economy. To play with the big boys, we have to obey their rules, and if the big boys are determined to annihilate one’s community, one is destined to never be able to operate with true integrity.

To pay for his father’s funeral, Breythe has to perform in a problematic television advertisement. To help one’s community, one often has to sleep with the enemy. First Nations peoples, more than any other on this land, understand that subsistence may be permitted, but for the marginalised to thrive, not as exceptional individuals but as whole communities, is nigh on impossible. In fact, like Breythe we find ourselves in positions of pseudo betrayal, when trying to represent and advance causes. The white patriarchy will tempt us with its crumbs, and some of us will pick them up, always hoping that a difference would be made.

Wyatt’s very deep reflections on Indigenous identity are brought to scintillating life by Shari Sebbens’ passionate yet humorous direction. It is political theatre that speaks with a level of authenticity rarely seen; one which prioritises in its viewership, the same minority culture it wishes to represent. Those of us who are not its main concern, benefit from observing through that ajar door, a perspective so kindly made available, so that those of us on the outside who proclaim to be supportive, can feel closer to the nuances of their predicament. Sebbens keeps the discussion in the family, understanding that to care too much about the white gaze, does little to help unearth the truth.

Set design by Tyler Hill makes a literal statement about the outside-inside demarcation of family life, with its left-right split of the performance space. More interesting is its incorporation of hidden scrims to facilitate the depiction of supernatural dimensions, allowing us to draw important connections with the dead and the living, in City of Gold. Verity Hampson’s lights are understated, in complete service of the storytelling, while Rachael Dease’s music gives affirmation to the wide range of emotions being depicted.

As actor, Wyatt’s performance as Breythe is a searing one, filled with a righteous indignation that is satisfying both in terms of its capacity for driving home a message, and for its sheer theatricality. His chemistry with Mathew Cooper, who plays brother Mateo, is invulnerable and effortless; their tumultuous brotherly love is portrayed with great power. Simone Detourbet’s earnest interpretation of their sister Carina is tenderly moving, and Ian Michael breaks our heart as cousin Cliffhanger, beautifully elevating a smaller part to something unforgettable, with his palpably generous approach to characterisation.

The abruptness to the ending of City of Gold seems intentional in depriving us of any catharsis. It provokes us into taking a stand, leaving no room for ambiguity, in how an Australian viewer would position oneself, at the show’s conclusion. It is right, that the situation is framed as a binary one; you are either anti-racist, or you are racist at least by default. You can make contributions to improving the situation, or you can stand on the sidelines and let injustices perpetuate. Feeling bad is not enough, but there is only so much theatre can do for you.

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Review: The Torrents (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jul 18 – Aug 24, 2019
Playwright: Oriel Gray
Director: Clare Watson
Cast: Emily Rose Brennan, Luke Carroll, Tony Cogin, Gareth Davies, Rob Johnson, Geoff Kelso, Sam Longley, Celia Pacquola, Steve Rodgers
Images by Philip Gostelow

Theatre review
Jenny Milford has barely begun working in a news room, but is already being threatened with the sack. It is the end of the nineteenth century, and the old white men of Koolgalla’s local newspaper simply cannot imagine a woman working with them. In the meantime, agriculture in Koolgalla is at a crossroads, with old interests having to give way to advancements, or the population will have to face extinction. The Torrents was written by Oriel Gray around 1955, and although its themes are undoubtedly pertinent, it comes as no surprise that this is only the play’s second staging in over half a century. Its plot structure is awkward, its dialogue dry, and its narrative too simple.

Director Clare Watson adds to Gray’s work a lot of ornamentation, and the show becomes, fortunately, of satisfactory quality. It is an elegantly designed production, not particularly inventive with any of its renderings, but certainly accomplished with what it sets out to achieve.

Actor Celia Pacquola is spirited in the leading role, able to introduce a modern sense of sass for Jenny to remain likeable. Although crucial to the story, the character often feels insufficiently dominant in the scheme of things, with many sequences seeming to keep her excluded. The play’s title refers to Rufus Torrent, editor of the paper, and his son Ben. The former played by a sturdy, dignified Tony Cogin, and the latter, a kooky Gareth Davies, whose impulsive comedy adds a reliable and welcome invigoration to proceedings.

It is evident that all performers in The Torrents invest in an attempt to fortify their show. There is good effervescent energy, and an admirable precision to their rhythms as an ensemble, and although the staging is ultimately underwhelming, polish of this standard is always impressive.

Like the residents of Koolgalla, we need something radical to wake us up to our impending destruction. It may be narcissism, or simply fear, that keeps us from accepting the truth of ecological and technological disasters that are already in motion. It was not until the old boys club in The Torrents were able to let the first woman in, that significant change was able to begin.

The powerful is almost always conservative. Those at the top are habituated into thinking that they must protect the existing, and are thus unable to conceive of big transformations that would make things better. They keep doing things the old way, to try and reinforce the security they imagine themselves enjoying. They manufacture a supremacy, to be protected at all costs, unwilling to recognise that it is not mother nature who will be obedient, but us, who must abide by nature’s laws.

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