Review: Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (State Theatre Company South Australia)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jan 13 – 23, 2022
Playwright: Edward Albee
Director: Margaret Harvey
Cast: Jimi Bani, Rashidi Edward, Juanita Navas-Nguyen, Susan Prior
Images by Yaya Stempler

Theatre review
Martha and George are always fighting. The perpetuality of their battles seems to point to a certain masochism that resides at the centre of their marriage, and we discover that perhaps their endless struggle for power, forms the very foundation of their life together. As viewers on the sidelines, we gladly ride that momentum of conflict, knowing that things simply will never get better for the couple, in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Set in the world of academia, in the New England region of the USA, Albee’s discussions about power, pertain to a kind that is particularly white. Director Margaret Harvey’s decision to cast Black men in the roles of the duelling academics George and Nick, brings greater focus to the whiteness that is being interrogated. The futility of these two men trying to climb the social and professional ladders, within a system built upon the exclusion of people like them, are made mournfully clear by the darkness of their skin.

Although never lacking in energy, the production suffers from a shortage of precision, in the way Albee’s often rambling dialogue is presented. The writing’s abstract qualities has a tendency to become overly ambiguous on this stage, making the experience feel at times, somewhat hollow.

Ailsa Paterson’s set design is an elegant update that provides the story with a present day context, but a strangely domineering centrepiece that makes reference to the white practice of pilfering historical artefacts is, although well-meaning, an unnecessary distraction. Lights by Nigel Levings are effectively chilling, in the cold white box of Martha and George’s home. Sound design by Andrew Howard is sparse, but memorable for its use of drums to rouse tensions.

Actor Susan Prior is suitably nebulous as the heavily intoxicated Martha. Jimi Bani’s bouts of anger as George dials up the drama, but a characteristic cynicism seems to be missing. Nick is played by Rashidi Edward who brings great intensity, and his counterpart Honey is thankfully given some backbone by Juanita Navas-Nguyen.

Martha’s father never appears in the play, but he holds absolute power over the people that we meet. Just like the white patriarchy on this land, it is never the ones who benefit most that do the dirty work, but all the foot soldiers who fight amongst themselves, thinking they are advancing their personal ambitions, when in fact are only serving the purposes of those on top. We are given crumbs, that are designed to gaslight us into believing, that the rules of engagement are fair. That we persist with these rules, is as strange as Martha and George persisting with their marriage.

www.statetheatrecompany.com.au

Review: Girl From The North Country (Theatre Royal Sydney)

Venue: Theatre Royal Sydney (Sydney NSW), 6 Jan – 27 Feb, 2022
Book: Conor McPherson
Music & Lyrics: Bob Dylan
Director: Conor McPherson
Cast: Tony Black, Peter Carroll, Tony Cogin, Laurence Coy, Terence Crawford, Helen Dallimore, Blake Erickson, Callum Francis, Elizabeth Hay, Peter Kowitz, Lisa McCune, Samantha Morley, Zahra Newman, Christina O’Neill, Grant Piro, James Smith, Greg Stone, Chemon Theys, Liam Wigney
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
Characters of Girl from the North Country weave in and out of a Minnesota house, in 1934 when the Great Depression was in full force. Their stories are written by Conor McPherson, whose flair for sentimental nostalgia is put to good use, in this musical set to the songs of Bob Dylan. A kind of specific Americanness, found in its themes as well as in its style, might make the show feel somewhat distant to Australian sensibilities, but a transcendent beauty so present in all its creative considerations, almost bridges that cultural gap.

Although not always engaging, the work is certainly transportative. Directed by McPherson, Girl from the North Country takes us to another time and place, with a level of elegance rarely seen on our musical theatre stages. Mark Henderson’s lighting design, in collaboration with Rae Smith’s sets and costumes, offer up lush vistas that meld so wonderfully with musical director Andrew Ross’ reworking of Dylan’s songs. Lucy Hind’s sensitive choreography too is memorable, in a production that feels so confident yet remarkably understated.

The languid aesthetic is brought to manifestation by an endearing cast, including Peter Carroll, Lisa McCune and Zahra Newman, who deliver captivating personalities, in a show that is otherwise fairly resistant of our need to identify with its people and situations. Sublime singing from the likes of Callum Francis, Elizabeth Hay and Christina O’Neill pull us in, so that we can regard the heart and soul of these artistic renderings, at close proximation.

There are many moments of theatrical magic in Girl from the North Country, but there are also many instances where it leaves us unexpectedly cold. It includes an abundance of exquisite elements that amount to something best described as mellow. One would not be surprised to discover that the songs connect more than the stories do, in a work that stands most importantly, as a tribute to the legend that is Bob Dylan.

www.northcountry.com.au

Review: Pollon (Little Eggs Collective)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Dec 14 – 18, 2021
Creator and Performer: Eliza Scott
Director and Dramaturg:
Craig Baldwin
Images by Yannick Jamey

Theatre review
In Pollon, we witness Eliza Scott attempting to recreate the presence, of someone no longer present. An older man maybe Scott’s father, has fallen critically ill or perhaps died, and the artist, like all who are left behind, has to grapple with the nature of grief and of memory, in ways that are utterly personal. In Pollon, it is that process of mourning that reveals the things that we hold dear, that often do not come into true consciousness until too late.

The memory of a lost love is retrieved, most notably in this staging, through the sense of sound. Scott’s reminiscences are based heavily on old utterances that might have been fleeting or indeed, repeated time and again. That search for yesterday’s intimate moments, are made material by the performer’s various constructions of sonic presentations. Utilising the simple combination of a microphone with two loop stations, impromptu “songs” are created to fascinating effect.

Directed by Craig Baldwin, visual aspects are even more pared back, with minimal costumes and light changes, on a set that looks almost perfunctory by design. The result however is commendably elegant, in its rendering of a kind of essentialist aesthetic. As performer, Scott is irresistibly charming, with an intense vulnerability that makes everything they serve up, seem captivating and important. For an abstract work about presence, Scott’s sheer star quality is a convincing ingredient, that keeps us completely at ease and attentive.

Nobody can remember the days before they were born, but to think that one’s existence on this plane, in the posthumous, might become equally imperceptible and intangible, is unbearable. If we do not wish to contend with the idea that we simply vanish into thin air, it must be true then, that humans are concerned with legacy. Yet, we do so little to ensure that what we leave behind, is good and fair. The remnants of a generation will always inform how subsequent lives will conceive of the world. One can only hope that all the bad that lingers, can somehow be transformed into something better.

www.littleeggscollective.com

Review: Jagged Little Pill (Theatre Royal Sydney)

Venue: Theatre Royal Sydney (Sydney NSW), 2 – 19 Dec, 2021
Book: Diablo Cody
Music: Glen Ballard, Alanis Morissette
Lyrics: Alanis Morissette
Director: Diane Paulus
Cast: Natalie Bassingthwaighte, Tim Draxl, Emily Nkomo, Liam Head, Maggie Mckenna, Grace Miell, Aydan, Josh Gates, Imani Williams, Caleb Jago-ward, Mon Vergara, Baylie Carson, Georgina Hopson, Noah Mullins, Trevor Santos, Isabella Roberts, Marie Ikonomou, Bella Choundary, Jerome Javier, Romy Vuksan
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
The story takes place in upper-middle class suburbia, where Mary Jane, a classic Connecticut housewife hiding a secret drug problem, invests extraordinary energy into making everything at home appear perfect, to all and sundry. A reckoning is forced into being however, when her teenage children’s upheavals precipitate an embrace of the ugly truth. Adopted daughter Frankie is Black and coming of age, and has lost all patience for her community’s pretentiousness, and son Nick is embroiled in a case of sexual assault, that leads us to discover the depths of Mary Jane’s personal struggles.

The book for Jagged Little Pill by Diablo Cody is carefully considered, and admirable in its commitment to incorporating social issues that are of immense concern today. It represents a strong attempt at pushing forward the musical theatre format, in order that entertainment could be combined, with something altogether more substantial in the way we tell stories, in this age of cultural reinvention. The dominant presence of political activists in the show, complete with slogans on placards, is not only a sign of the times, but a real manifestation of the spirit and intention, of this very 21st century musical.

Featuring songs from the seminal 1995 Alanis Morissette rock album of the same name, the show however is not always completely engaging. The flow from dialogue to song is often less than seamless, and choreography of dance sequences feel awkwardly dated, even if we are conscious of the source material’s age. Fortunately, direction by Diane Paulus (implemented by Resident Director Leah Howard) is full of heart, and although not completely finessed, Jagged Little Pill succeeds in making its art say something deeply meaningful, and very probably, enduringly memorable.

Performer Natalie Bassingthwaighte does an excellent job of presenting Mary Jane’s vulnerability, beautifully detailing all her character’s flaws, whilst keeping us firmly on her side. It is a charm offensive of the most convincing kind. Her family is portrayed by Tim Draxl, Liam Head and Emily Nkomo, who offer nuance to challenging relationships, that all can surely identify with. Singing for Morissette’s rock tunes however, are more powerfully delivered by Aydan, Maggie McKenna and Grace Miell, who play Frankie’s friends and lovers from school. Their ability to bridge the considerable gap between rock and Broadway styles of singing, are the crucial ingredient for some of Jagged Little Pill‘s more transcendent moments.

It all ends too neatly and too easily, of course. A big musical, it seems, can only ever accommodate “happily ever after”. The lasting imagery from the show involves young people demanding change, and it is that insistence on something better, that extends beyond the convenient conclusion, an ongoing discussion about our future. We think about the conventions that govern parameters in art, and how every production bears the responsibility of invention and improvement. We think about the way we talk to one another, and how we must learn to reach better resolutions, even if it means having to grapple with humility. Jagged Little Pill is about a youthful spirit, and all the potential we can unleash when the idealism of our young, is given a chance. The show is not quite a call to arms, but the awareness it raises about a need for revolution, is hard to deny.

www.jaggedmusical.com

Review: Death of a Salesman (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Dec 3 – 22, 2021
Playwright: Arthur Miller
Director: Paige Rattray
Cast: Callan Colley, Jacek Koman, Josh McConville, Philip Quast, Bruce Spence, Thuso Lekwape, Helen Thomson, Contessa Treffone, Kimie Tsukakoshi, Brigid Zengeni, Alan Zhu
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Willy Loman is finally waking up to the fact that so many of life’s promises are bound to amount to nothing. The 63 year-old salesman has worked hard for decades, completely invested in the American Dream, but with the impending certainty of death, comes the realisation that he had been sold a big fat lie. It is now 72 years since Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman had first appeared on Broadway. Much has changed in the ways we live, yet the play’s central ideas seem never to lose their pertinence. Capitalism continues to broaden its grip over the very values with which we navigate existence, and no matter how many times we hear Willy Loman’s story, it appears few of us can avoid his fate. Such is the control, that desire for money and status, has over so many.

In her faithful 21st century rendition, director Paige Rattray has ensured a presentation stunning in its aesthetics, with exquisite design work occupying our attention over the near three-hour duration. The legacy of Edward Hopper in particular, is referenced beautifully in its evocation of 1940’s Americana. Paul Jackson’s lights steal the show, painterly and sublimely dramatic, in their bold manifestations of every tragic scene.

David Fleischer’s set design alters proportions of the proscenium, in order that we may obtain more intimate glimpses into the small lives being explored, whilst conveying the decrepitude of the Loman world view that many of us inevitably share. Costumes by Teresa Negroponte make statements about aspiration and disappointment, as they help transport us to a nostalgia that is more disconcerting than wistful. Music and sound design by Clemence Williams is noir-tinged, almost macabre in its grand invocations of regret and broken dreams.

Aspects of the performance utilises the device of a Greek Chorus, thankfully in an understated manner, which help manufacture a sense of gloom, and to prevent the vast space from falling too frequently into an unbearable emptiness. There is however a certain lack of soulfulness in the staging. Undoubtedly we witness a lot of passion being displayed, most notably by Jacek Koman who plays an irrepressible Willy, but the ensemble is not always convincing in their efforts, to represent the spirit of a play that aims to stand up for the little guy.

As Linda, actor Helen Thomson takes every opportunity to bring levity to a dark tale, but a lack in chemistry between the Loman spouses, has a tendency to make the mother and wife character seem somewhat disconnected. Callan Colley and Josh McConville are the sons, Happy and Biff respectively, both amiable personalities, if slightly surface in their depictions of a collapsing patriarchy. McConville does however, bring the show to a satisfying crescendo, late in the piece, when Biff unravels and exposes the truths about his torment.

Willy Loman’s death is important. We will all go about our lives, finding individual ways to figure out what is true and what are lies, based on all manner of evidence and introspection, but featuring prominently in Arthur Miller’s play is the undeniable centrepiece of a person’s death. The decisions we make, the things we value, and the way we love, should never be divorced from the singular fact of certain death, yet we seem in our American Dreams to forever act as though the self is immortal. “You can’t take it with you” is a common refrain, if only we care to listen.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Julius Caesar (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Nov 15 – Dec 23, 2021
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Kip Williams
Cast: Geraldine Hakewill, Ewen Leslie, Zahra Newman
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
When the Roman leader is assassinated in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, it is the very nature of democracy that comes into question. Two millennia after the fateful incident, we are still pondering, and living, the delusive meanings of democracy in our political realities. The men in Shakespeare’s play continue to bear a certain ambiguity in terms of their being good or bad, right or wrong. Fortunately for audiences of Kip Williams’ modern day adaptation, it is the all too familiar malevolence of 21st century communications technology that takes a lot of the unequivocal blame.

Mobile phones and social media, in addition to traditional news platforms, are the convenient new villains in this regeneration of the old classic. Video monitors occupy centre stage with an aggressive dominance, and actors are virtually never without their phones, always with camera on, pointing at themselves and at one another. We have to consume the play in ways that are similar, to how we consume the daily news about politics. Devices and screens overwhelm our senses, so that whatever is live and actually material, becomes secondary to digital transmissions.

We struggle to distinguish, the important from the distracting, and the truth from fake news. Williams’ direction makes the unrelenting noise that is so pervasive in our media habits, a central feature of his theatrical presentation, and the more he indulges in histrionics, the more we are seduced by all the frenzy. The story escalates along with our gleeful enjoyment of sequences that become increasingly hideous, and we begin to wonder if all the heartache and bloodshed, can only exist because of our audienceship. Our passive attention is made to take responsibility, in this salient reminder that under capitalism, the consumer is king.

David Bergman’s work on video design is humorous, detailed and dynamic. The abundant cultural references made therein, form a subtext for this version of Julius Caesar that not only updates the tale for contemporary sensibilities, it reframes the discussion about democracy to include technology and capitalism, so that the discourse feels urgent and strikingly intimate. Correspondingly, Stefan Gregory’s music and sound design takes charge of our nerve centres, in order that we can only respond to the series of egregious events, with appropriate revulsion. Also noteworthy are Elizabeth Gadsby’s set and costume design, offering efficient and unpretentious solutions to an otherwise complex staging. Lights by Amelia Lever-Davidson too are unobtrusive, yet satisfyingly dramatic in its various manifestations.

The three stellar actors called upon to play all the roles, are undeniably sublime. Geraldine Hakewill, Ewen Leslie and Zahra Newman impress with their thorough familiarity with the material, but it is their ability to engender an air of unpredictability that keeps us enthralled. It is live theatre in which everything is planned to the most minute, yet we experience it as though everything is coming from visceral impulses of each moment. Each performer is independently magnetic and powerful, but as a singular unit, they deliver a theatrical experience remarkably bold in its inventiveness, and thrilling in its capacity to make the story feel so immediate and involving.

The camera’s omnipresence strip the characters in Julius Caesar of their sincerity. Aware of being on screen at all times, their every word and deed can only appear performative, if not completely devoid of authenticity. It comes as a surprise then, that some of us still believe in our leaders, even when they are unabashedly hamming it up for our screens, shamelessly spouting nonsensical hyperbole and harmful rhetoric. The effectiveness with which media personalities (politicians and others) can use capitalism and technology to manipulate our sense of truth, to their advantage, is now a foregone conclusion. The end of the production is grim, as though proclaiming that resistance is futile, a statement only a scant few would dare refute.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Wherever She Wanders (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Darlinghurst NSW), Nov 5 – Dec 11, 2021
Playwright: Kendall Feaver
Director: Tessa Leong
Cast: Tony Cogin, Emily Havea, Mark Paguio, Jane Phegan, Fiona Press, Julia Robertson
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
When Paige Hutson is raped in her own room, barely a week into life as a fresher at one of Australia’s oldest residential colleges, it becomes apparent that sexual assault on campus is exceedingly commonplace, and that entrenched mechanisms purporting to deal with these egregious trespasses serve only to protect the system, and not the victims. Kendall Feaver’s “Wherever She Wanders” is a strangely polite look at how a young feminist Nikki Faletau navigates her activism, within the conservative walls of a structure that is perhaps the most patriarchal of all our institutions.

The play’s ideas are modern, but not radical by any stretch of the imagination. It may even seem to occasionally be sitting on the fence, in its attempts to prevent characters from turning caricature. While “Wherever She Wanders” may not convey the incendiary passion often associated with political movements of our time, it certainly paints a cogent picture of the dynamics at play. Feaver takes a lot of care to map out many issues unearthed by that one horrific incident, but it is debatable if the granularity at which it examines them is necessary, at a time when matters of this nature are already stringently scrutinised in so much of  our discourse.

Staging of the piece is humorous and jaunty. Directed by Tessa Leong, the show never fails to feel spirited, with an excellent attention to energy levels, aided by the commendable work contributed by designers, most notably Govin Ruben on lights, and James Brown on sound and music. “Wherever She Wanders” is engaging at every juncture, if slightly deficient in terms of the intellectual rigour, that a narrative of this nature should be able to provide.

Presented by an amiable cast, with the vivacious Emily Havea as lead, bringing a valuable intensity to the earnest advocate Nikki. It is her vitality that gives the production, and the topics of discussion, a sense of authenticity and gravity. Her adversary Jo Mulligan is College Master, and feminist from a bygone era. Played by Fiona Press, who demonstrates great empathy for the role, inviting us to think about the way gatekeepers operate in our daily lives. Actor Julia Robertson does marvellously to deliver for Paige, an abundance of complexity and nuance, so that we may locate both agency and integrity for a young woman in danger of being defined solely by an instance of violation.

Whether one believes that the systems have become broken through the ravages of time, or that the systems were always designed to fail so many of us, one should already have come to the conclusion that it seems only drastic measures, can address all the foundational and fundamental problems that plague our traditional institutions. We observe Nikki’s persistence as she goes about trying to change things, but there is no evidence that the complaints and conversations she participates in, ever result in significant progress. Where there is power imbalance, the subjugated always runs the risk of being patronised. As long as the powerful remain in charge, there is never any incentive for them to do anything more than to pretend to listen. Change does occasionally occur however, and persistence seems the only tool that the disadvantaged an hang on to, aside from the ever-present fantasy of  torching the whole place down.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Follow Me Home (ATYP)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jun 16 – Jul 3, 2021
Playwright: Lewis Treston
Director: Fraser Corfield
Cast: Laneikka Denne, Jasper Lee-Lindsay, Sofia Nolan, Thomas Weatherall
Images by Tracey Schramm

Theatre review
Lewis Treston’s Follow Me Home is comprised of anecdotes, from young Australians who have experienced homelessness. Although unified by a central theme, the stories are varied and surprising, able to reveal to viewers, the pervasive ignorance that surrounds these issues. To see the way people are treated as though discarded, especially at a tender age, is to interrogate our values as a community. Treston’s writing is incisive, and wonderfully dynamic. His dialogue sparkles and pops, to draw us in, and to keep our emotions invested.

The production is directed by Fraser Corfield, who exercises great restraint in stylistic terms, placing emphasis entirely on the quality of performance by a remarkable group of actors. It is worth noting however, that lighting design by Martin Kinnane contributes significantly to the tone of storytelling, and to the ways we respond to the play. Hugh Clark’s video projections provide a dimension of documentary authenticity, that helps us connect the onstage drama, with real world conditions just outside of the auditorium.

The ensemble radiates an unbridled enthusiasm, with four tremendously likeable actors taking on a wide range of roles, in disparate scenes that share a common urgency. Thomas Weatherall brings splendid detail to his characters, and a conspicuous intelligence that allows the narratives he presents, to be perfectly mapped out for our delectation. Sofia Nolan demonstrates great capacity for nuance, blending meaningful subtlety into the playful theatricality she unleashes for each of her personalities. Laneikka Denne is memorable for her earnest renderings, and Jasper Lee-Lindsay’s interior truthfulness proves captivating, in a showcase of some extraordinarily talented performers.

We need to acknowledge that there is something so deficient in our culture, that to have individuals languishing and suffering on the streets, is a normalised expectation. A new-born baby abandoned in a public restroom will cause an uproar, but when people grow past some arbitrary age, we are happy to completely renounce responsibility over their well-being. Each of us understands the fragile nature of life, and we know exactly what it feels like to need help, but rarely are we ready and willing to offer assistance. That frame of mind, is at the very core of our nation’s problems.

www.atyp.com.au

Review: Come From Away (Capitol Theatre)

Venue: Capitol Theatre (Sydney NSW), Jun 3 – Aug 22, 2021
Book, Music & Lyrics: Irene Sankoff, David Hein
Director: Christopher Ashley
Cast: Zoe Gertz, Sharriese Hamilton, Douglas Hansell, Kolby Kindle, Phillip Lowe, Simon Maiden, Sarah Morrison, Emma Powell, Katrina Retallick, Kellie Rode, Ash Roussety, Gene Weygandt

Theatre review
At the moment the disaster of September 11, 2001 occurred, hundreds of aeroplanes were mid-air across the Americas, thrust into utter chaos. Thousands of passengers had to be diverted as a result of the terrorist attack, to safer harbours, including the island of Newfoundland, at the outer east of Canada. The musical Come From Away comprises a collection of anecdotes from the five days, during which international strangers were welcomed by country folk into their homes, at a historic time.

Written by David Hein and Irene Sankoff, the material is warm and witty, offering a way for us to look back at a traumatic event, without having to engage directly with its immense darkness. Instead, it is the overwhelming goodness of ordinary people that comes to the fore. Directed by Christopher Ashley, the show eschews the usual manipulative cheesiness of the musical format, trusting in our collective memory of that fateful day, to transport us to a space of deep emotion and great empathy.

The staging feels deceptively simple, but in the absence of predictably flamboyant manoeuvres, thoughtful details are introduced instead, notably by Kelly Devine’s choreography, for a theatrical experience that is surprisingly sensitive in its rendering, to achieve an authentic expression of the human need for connection. Howell Binkley’s lights too, are memorable for delicately shifting us from nuance to nuance, never overly dramatic, but always precise in how they convey mood and tone for each scene.

The ensemble cast is brilliantly cohesive. Each performer is given plentiful opportunity to shine as individuals, but it is their tightness as a group that makes their presentation feel bulletproof. All are required to play multiple characters, and for the audience to discover every personality to be a likeable one, is truly remarkable. Similarly, musicians in the productions are no less than awe inspiring. Their work is spirited and exhilarating, incredibly rousing in this story about humans at their best, at a time of crisis.

Come From Away emerges from a horrific incident, yet we find it to be full of light and hope. In some ways, there is a sense that twenty years ago, even in the midst of tragedy, we knew clearly the distinction between right and wrong, good and bad. With the passage of time however, it may seem that an erosion of innocence has accelerated, probably through the Trump years, where seeing the worst of people is no longer a shock, but almost a matter of course. Fortunately though, the good people of Newfoundland do not seem fictitious; they only seem very far away.

www.comefromaway.com.au

Review: The 7 Stages Of Grieving (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), May 21 – Jun 19, 2021
Playwrights: Wesley Enoch, Deborah Mailman
Director: Shari Sebbens
Cast: Elaine Crombie
Images by Joseph Mayers

Theatre review
In popular understandings of psychological processes, there are well-known stages of grief, that relate to loss and anguish. Less commonly spoken of, are the sorrowful experiences of our Indigenous, that stem from over two centuries of colonisation. In The 7 Stages of Grieving by Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman, a veil is lifted with great generosity, on the burdens of Blackness in this country.

A one-woman play in which the soul of a people is laid bare, The 7 Stages of Grieving offers a valuable opportunity to obtain a condensed overview of challenges faced by our First Nations. Although living in divergent communities, these marginalised voices are given a unified focus, in order that we may cultivate an appropriate attitude and response, for the critical improvements needed for Black lives on this land.

The storyteller takes us through seven phases of Aboriginal history, namely Dreaming, Invasion, Genocide, Protection, Assimilation, Self-Determination, and Reconciliation. Performed by Elaine Crombie who takes on the daunting challenge of representing an entire non-monolithic culture, we see her indomitable and joyful spirit shine through, even as she makes her way through one catastrophic anecdote after another. Crombie resists being defined by adversity; demonstrating that it is in fact a combination of defiance and resilience, that is truly formative.

Directed by Shari Sebbens, the show is memorable for both its gravity and its levity, juxtaposing hardship with humour, to deliver what are arguably the most important messages of our time. Set design by Elizabeth Gadsby (inspired by the work of Megan Cope) too, contrasts shimmering surfaces against earthy shrines, to communicate a sense of struggle in those who fight harder than most to survive. Verity Hampson’s lights and video projections, offer impressive visual variety, while Steve Francis’ work on music and sound, take our minds to ethereal places, as though creating a momentary paradigm shift, in this communal sharing of theatrical magic.

At the show’s conclusion, we are spared the indignity of walking away with little more than melancholy or worse, resignation. The artists urge us to take action, even prescribing “The 7 Actions of Healing” to assist in transforming what is normally a passive audience, into an activated one. Indeed, there is always a danger that the hard work of minority communities, is consumed as a kind of perverse entertainment, or a vehicle to raise awareness at best, but nothing besides.

The labour of presenting one’s trauma, to those directly and indirectly responsible, is rarely received with any comparable urgency. 26 years after the first staging of The 7 Stages of Grieving, we can now take this time to acknowledge the advancements that have and have not been made, since 1995. Whatever we decide is the current state of affairs, it is hard to deny that the room to improve, remains infinitely vast.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au