We return to the sea at the end. The sound of it over the space as performers place microphones onstage with no one to speak into them. The voices that should be speaking into them aren’t here, instead they’re being held in illegal detention on the island of Nauru, with no end in sight.
Before this, remaining sections of the floor are removed and packed away. This steady dismantling of what has for the past hour represented Nauru reinforces the idea of stripping away – both in terms of the island’s resources, but, most importantly, the rights of the peoples being held there.
Samara Hersch and Lara Thoms have, along with the cast, written a show that demonstrates balance and restraint. Care is taken earlier to not mention political parties, only oblique references such as “A man named Peter…” or, “A man named Malcolm…”
Anger is avoided. To be sure, there’s plenty here to be angry about, but the show is designed to not be so obvious a diatribe. However, just because the cast don’t point fingers at the audience doesn’t make it any less of an indictment. We all know it’s happening, yet not enough people care about it for anything to change.
The feel of a low-budget school production is intentional. Cars are cardboard, the sea is sheets of fabric, clouds are cut-outs and when those clouds are removed it happens with an old-timey creak of a squeaky winch. It all works to create a compelling tension with the true viscera of the story being told.
A fascinating touch was how the cast – a troupe of 10-18-year olds – gently wove autobiographical details in with the story of Nauru. The audience are well-accustomed to the history lesson and tone by now, so when the first details of the cast get mentioned it doesn’t quite make sense.
But we quickly understand and these contrasts between stories happening under Australia’s care 4,494km away (such as a child being sexually assaulted, or a man setting himself on fire, or schools being shut down) and stories from the cast’s lives here (such as trying to catch a wild rabbit while on holiday at their beach house, or getting a fright during a birthday at Luna Park) jar and shock.
But, how did we get here? The cast do a splendid job in tracing a path from an island that emerged a million years ago, to its first inhabitants, through two World Wars, to a time of incredible prosperity, to a time of squandered money and resources, until they must rely on Australia paying to use the island for the illegal detention of refugees.
Before this history is the sound of the sea at the beginning. There’s also a glimpse ahead of, Leonardo the Musical: A Portrait of Love. Funded by Nauru in 1993 (as we’ll learn later), it’s a nice microcosm for the show ahead – truth and performance sparking together, lighting, burning like the shame everyone should feel that the situation on Nauru is allowed to persist.
We All Know What’s Happening
Arts House – North Melbourne Town Hall, 521 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne
Performance: Wednesday 19 July 2017 – 6.15pm
Season continues to 22 July 2017
Information and Bookings: www.artshouse.com.au
Image: We All Know What’s Happening – photo by Bryony Jackson
Review: David Collins