Left – Whitney Richards, Joshua Brennan, Adriane Daff, Rose Riley, Will O'Mahony. Photo – Gary Marsh Photography
Australia is a country still reeling from its colonial past. From the First Fleet, to the Stolen Generation, to the national apology and the naming of Australia Day, the relationship between Aboriginal people and white Australians tends to be marked by confusion, tension and bewilderment. While Aboriginal voices such as David Milroy and Jack Davis have long been held in esteem by theatre audiences, there has been a distinct lack of other voices on the issue, perhaps out of fear of being politically incorrect or causing offense. If theatre represents conversations, the silence from non-Indigenous Australians is deafening.
Into this void steps Black Swan State Theatre Company's production of Flood. Flood tells the story of six young friends who escape to an idyllic remote campsite in North-Western Australia. After the usual fun and frivolity, the group is interrupted by a stranger, and the subsequent events surface as somewhat of a metaphor for our nation's history.
This is a confronting play, not just because of the vast emotional landscape, but also because of the truth of the perspectives. Frankie (Adriane Daff) wants to make amends by volunteering in Aboriginal communities. Steve (Samuel Delich) refuses to accept guilt or responsibility for events taking place years before his birth. In between are phrases, thoughts and opinions we've all heard in restaurants, workplaces, buses... It's theatre that is powerful in its ability to make you shift in your seat, and consider which of the voices truly belongs to you.
Adam Mitchell's direction is deft, slick and uncompromising. Working with a group of actors who are relatively young but wide-ranging in experience, he has given shape and purpose to a script that poses considerable challenges in performance. The blocking, even allowing for the three-sided audience, never felt forced, and the emotional truth and intensity proved captivating for the entirety of the eighty uninterrupted minutes.
Similarly striking was the production side of the performance. The stunning set from designer India Mehta created a perfect visual representation of both creek bed and rising turmoil, and was a joy to behold. The lighting by Chris Donnelly was purposeful and affecting, and the soundscapes prepared by Ben Collins created a beauty and unease that pervaded the entire performance.
The acting across the board was excellent. The young cast displayed such chemistry and empathy that their journeys provided outstanding ballast for the political perspectives, rather than being lost to them. Special mention however, goes to Adriane Daff who crafted a beautifully natural interpretation of the free-spirited Frankie, alternating between joy and despair without ever feeling forced. "Best on ground" honours are awarded wholeheartedly to Will O'Mahony whose portrayal of Sal was honest, natural and magnetic. The depth of this conflicted character; his guilt, fear and betrayal was played out in a manner that was heartfelt, poignant and unavoidable.
Scripts from new playwrights are often risky affairs, and Black Swan should be praised for its commitment to original works in giving life to Chris Isaacs' challenging text as part of the Emerging Writers Group initiative. While the direct-to-audience monologues feel quite lyrical and a tiny bit indulgent, the group dialogue is snappy, revealing and brilliant. The content of this play is not easy for a young white man to handle, but as Isaacs acknowledges, the issues belong to each of us and they impact on us all. He approached the topic from a world he knew, and has explored it in ways that are as sensitive as they are confronting.
Flood is a play that will divide opinions, spark conversations, and no doubt draw criticism. But this is not a bad thing. It speaks to the shared experiences of a very real issue, and provides a starting point for the unspoken to cross into discussion. Love it or hate it, but go see it.
Black Swan State Theatre Company presents
by Chris Isaacs
Directed by Adam Mitchell
Venue: Studio Underground | State Theatre Centre of Western Australia, Perth
Dates: 17 Jan – 2 Feb, 2014
Tickets: $24.00 – $49.00
Bookings: ticketek.com.au | Ticketek outlets | 1300 795 012