Two young men explore the Tasmanian wilderness in their youth. Francis, a young engineer and his friend Peter, a geologist, have bright futures ahead of them. But when they stumble upon a tribe of outcasts deep in the bush, they enjoy a moment of curious joy before despair.
The tribe are a group of misfits, who speak in a melange of old English patois and gibberish, if they can speak at all. Many of them are deformed or severely challenged, lacking basic skills. After two nights of learning and interaction, Peter is keen to leave the tribe be and move on with their hike home, while Francis begins to take a shine to a young girl named Betsheb. When one of the old men dies, the tribe’s leader, an old woman named Ayr, decides to head to civilisation with the boys and change their history forever.
Written in 1985 by Louis Nowra and set before and during WWII, the play is widely regarded as an Australian classic, and a stark commentary on Australia’s colonial heritage, its treatment of the indigenous and our culture in general. Due to its rather large cast (nine actors playing thirteen characters) and epic stage requirements it’s not often performed, but this ambitious production does hit many marks.
Direction from Kip Williams is strong, as are performances from Brendon McClelland as Francis, Rarriwuy Hick as Betsheb and Robert Menzies as one of the tribe as well as Peter’s father, Dr Archer, who studies the group when they arrive in Hobart. David Fleicher’s design is sparse but excellent in its simplicity in becoming various locations from the outback to the Western Front, backed up by excellent lighting design by Damien Cooper.
The first act is wonderfully intriguing, however the second act rushes through five years of snap-quick scenes to get to somewhat of an anticlimactic ending. While excellently executed, the inclusion of numerous flashes to Francis’ experience at war adds only a little to the story, and only forces more rushing through of plot to get the play finished in under three hours. While it’s well performed and directed,
it does beg wonder why – in 2016 – it was chosen to remount when there are far more stories of our colonial heritage which rely less on metaphor. However it does raise some very strong themes of our lack of culture as a whole and our ambivalence towards it.
Performances continue at Sydney Theatre’s Wharf 1 Theatre through 20th February. For tickets and more details head HERE.
The reviewer attended the performance on Tuesday January 19th