The calibre of many of the events taking place as part of this year’s Perth Festival is encouraging for those who have often thought that a move to Melbourne was the only way to get their fix of the creative arts, and Andrew Bovell’s compelling adaptation of Kate Grenville’s award-winning novel, The Secret River proves no exception.
It was always going to be a difficult task turning the sprawling first installment of Grenville’s “ColonialTrilogy” (which also includes the novels “The Lieutenant” and “Sarah Thornhill”) into a stage production, but Bovell has done so in a way which truly captures the pathos and depth of the original.
The play is deeply faithful to the novel which explores the topic of European colonisation in Australia, and its effect on the land’s original owners, and the guidance of Neil Armfield (who directed the acclaimed Australian film “Candy”) has provided an almost cinematic rendering of this tragic tale, with the transition between scenes and the fluidity with which each character occupies his/her respective space echoing this background.
Whether or not it is Armfield’s skill in eliciting from his actors masterful performances, or the sheer talent of the actors themselves, is ultimately irrelevant; the powerful offerings from leads Anita Heigh and Nathaniel Dean and supporting cast, allow the viewer full absorption into the alternative world playing out on stage.
It is easy to see why Grenville has given this play her tick of approval – it conveys the novel’s sobering message in an equally powerfully, yet radically different capacity, and as she notes, this is in part due to the collaboration with the play’s aboriginal artists. In a quote from the accompanying programme, she makes the observation that these actors provide the play “a dimension I was only able to gesture towards in the novel.”
The Secret River is certainly not an easy play to watch, but it’s certainly one that will make you contemplate this troubled chapter in our national history long after the curtain falls.
Sydney Theatre Company
The Secret River
by Kate Grenville | adapted for the stage by Andrew Bovell
Director Neil Armfield
Venue: His Majesty's Theatre, Perth
Dates: 25 Feb 2013 - 2 Mar 2013
Tickets: $69 – $25
Part of the 2013 Perth Festival