Left – Rory Potter, Nathaniel Dean, Ningali Lawford-Wolf, Kelton Pell and Shaka Cook. Cover – Trevor Jamieson, Shaka Cook, Madeline Madden and Frances Djulibing. Photos – Heidrun Löhr
Adapting any epic novel for the stage is no easy feat, but Andrew Bovell's writing alongside Neil Armfield's direction steers Kate Grenville's The Secret River into pastures that are captivating, accessible and often poetic.
It's early 1800s and William Thornhill has been transported as a convict to Australia. Upon receiving a pardon, he and his wife Sal and their two sons decide to claim a piece of land along the Hawkesbury river as their own.
The land however, already has a group of inhabitants, a family from the Dharug people, and a clash of cultures, fuelled by ignorance and fear, result in tragic consequences.
Bovell and Armfield have captured the two cultures extremely well, choosing a stylised approach, that in the first part of the play especially, injects much humour into the piece. Moments such as the children playing innocently on a water slide to the more dramatic use of flour blown into the air to suggest gun fire are beautifully realised.
Nathaniel Dean has the difficult and demanding task of bringing the almost obsessive Thornhill to theatrical life, and does a sterling job. Like most convicts, Thornhill has known hardship and poverty and the need to survive, but underlying all this there are traces of a man who struggles to admit his failings. Dean manages to capture the many layers to this character.
Equally strong is Georgia Adamson as Sal, presenting a woman with the true pioneer spirit.
Ningali Lawford-Wolf's Narrator is crucial to the telling of this story and is an important and necessary presence throughout the performance.
The large and excellent company of performers include veterans such as Colin Moody, Richard Piper, Bruce Spence and Jennifer Hagan, alongside Indigenous actors Trevor Jamieson and Kelton Pell.
Stephen Curtis (Set Design) has created a vast open space that is able to be transformed with a minimal of props, suitably enhanced by Mark Howett's lighting design.
It is also a bonus having a live musician on stage, for the Melbourne Season its the show's music composer/music director Iain Grandage, which allows for the score to add another layer to the experience.
The Secret River is a very powerful work, but equally it is an important work that delves into a darker past than we are often not comfortable re-living.
Arts Centre Melbourne presents
A Sydney Theatre Company production
The Secret River
by Kate Grenville | adapted for the stage by Andrew Bovell
Director Neil Armfield
Venue: Playhouse | Arts Centre Melbourne
Dates: 10 – 19 March 2016
Tickets: $65 – $104