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Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Bovell’

It’s a tribute to the Sydney Theatre Company that they’ve gone ahead with this NT run after the tragic death of the story’s narrator Ningali Lawford-Wolf at the end of their Edinburgh Festival visit, and to Pauline Whyman who has flown from Australia to read the part in her place. Director Neil Armfield’s moving tribute before it started dedicated the performance to Ningali.

It’s adapted by Andrew Bovell from Kate Grenville’s novel, inspired by her research into her ancestors. South Londoner William Thornhill was deported for what would now be considered a very minor crime as an alternative to execution. After a period of incarceration he is pardoned and with his wife Sal and sons Dick and Willie sets his sights on building a new life in Australia, though Sal reluctantly so, and for only five years. They take 100 acres on the Hawkesbury River, just 30 miles from Sydney, where a handful of other settlers have set up home, and begin to farm it whilst William also earns money from the use of his boat. The land is of course already inhabited by the indigenous Dharug people, and conflict ensues. There are attempts to build a friendship between these two peoples, notably by William & Sal, even more so their youngest son Willie, but other settlers’ actions lead to bloodshed.

It’s a surprising emotional ride. You find yourself sympathising with these settlers, disowned by their own country for the pettiest of crimes which would today incur a small fine, community service or even a caution, sent thousands of miles away from their homes and families to what they see as a hostile place. The fact they once lived on the doorstep of this theatre some 200 years ago adds a certain frisson. As the story progresses though, you become angry at their hostility, racism and violence, with more than a touch of shame; they are our ancestors after all.

The Aboriginal actors speak Dharung and there is no attempt at translation or surtitling, which I thought added authenticity to the storytelling. There is superb atmospheric music written by Iain Grandage, played live by Isaac Hayward. The simple design, a bare stage with just a fire, surrounded by branches and occasionally covered in water, earth or powder is very evocative. It’s a terrific ensemble, excellently led by Nathanial Dean and Georgia Adamson as the Thornhill’s. Pauline Whyman has great presence as Dhirrumbin and given her role is the story’s narrator, reading the part is not at all detrimental. I’ve admired Neil Armfield’s work in theatre and opera since I saw Cloudstreet at the Riverside Studios twenty years ago, and his staging here is masterly.

It’s great to welcome the Sydney Theatre Company to the NT, despite the tragedy en route. A very fine play, a very fine production and a fitting tribute.

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I’n not sure how I managed to miss this play by Australian playwright Andrew Bovell first time round in 2016. The playwright has been on my radar since enjoying both When the Rain Stops Falling and Speaking in Tongues. I particularly like the structure of his plays, as I do with this one.

It’s set in Adelaide, Australia, over one year in the Price family home. They are a typical suburban family where the parents have worked hard to ensure their children get a better life. Husband / father Bob is a redundant car worker and wife / mother Fran is a nurse. They have four grown up children, the eldest of which, thirty-four-year-old Pip, herself has two girls. The middle two boys, Mark aged 32 and Ben aged 28, are both single and then there’s nineteen-year-old Rosie, nine years younger than the next sibling, who was clearly unplanned. It’s a dramatic year for all four children who between then face a separation, emigration, broken heart, corporate crime and a questioning of gender.

It covers so many issues in just two hours playing time. The parents can’t let go of their children, but the children can’t let go of them too. With children dependent on their parents for so much longer today, it seems very timely. The nature of parent-child relationships has changed in just one generation and this one family seems to embody the entire issue. It’s beautifully written, with much depth in the characterisation and complete authenticity in the situations and relationships.

The staging by Geordie Brookman and Scott Graham is outstanding too, with Frantic Assembly’s Graham adding his beautiful, delicate movement and physical theatre touches. I thought all six performances were terrific – Ewan Stewart and Cate Hamer as the loving parents, with distinctly different relationships with each child. Seline Hizli’s Pip has a difficult relationship with her mum, but they have more in common than either realise. Arthur Wilson’s Ben, spoilt my mum, is moving in posher circles, with consequences. Matthew Barker’s Mark isn’t the son dad thought he was. Kirsty Oswald plays Rosie, whose sibling relationships are defined by the age gaps, and she’s the only one who hasn’t disappointed her parents, yet. Lovely performances.

I found this a deeply satisfying, thought provoking play. The golden age continues.

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