The-Street-Theatre-Milk-Roxanne-McDonald-Dylan-Van-Den-Berg-photo-by-CRESWICK-COLLECTIVEAwarded the $30,000.00 Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting in the 2021 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, Dylan Van Den Berg’s elegiac play, Milk tells the story of three ancestors who are brought together in a metaphysical memory place with the opportunity to share knowledge of their ancestry and ask the difficult questions of each other.

Originally slated for production in 2020, Milk has been in development by The Street through its First Seen program since 2018. Following an interruption to the process by Covid-19, this premiere production of Milk became The Street’s inaugural production for 2021, with direction intrusted to NIDA graduate, Ginny Savage, who was initially involved with its development as dramaturg.

The characters in Milk are simply listed in the program as Character’ A, B, and C. Roxanne McDonald plays A, an elderly aboriginal woman from 1840’s Flinders’ Island in Tasmania. Kylie Becket plays B; a sharp-tongued, middle-aged Tasmanian aboriginal woman from 1960’s perpetually trapped in the ritual of getting ready for a date. Dylan Van Den Berg, himself, plays C, a young Palawa man wrestling with the complexities of aligning himself with his indigenous legacies.

Apart from a couple of spot-lit soliloquies, the three characters occupy the stage for the duration of the play, which is presented without interval. A gorgeous environment of rocks, wood shavings and decaying church pews enhanced by Gerry Corcoran’s artful lighting design suggesting mountain sunsets and sunrises.

Peter Bailey’s evocative soundscape with its soft bird-calls and distant digeridoos, conjures up a haunting atmosphere of timelessness in which the three characters attempt to reconcile what came before the onslaught of colonisation.

Of course there are no solutions, and some of the revelations are disturbing, but Van Den Berg’s thoughtful, questioning play is a worthy recipient of accolades it has so far received, and of this beautiful, haunting production by The Street.

The Street Theatre, 15 Childers Street, Canberra City West
Performance: Saturday 12 June 2021
Season: 4 – 12 June 2021

Image: Roxanne McDonald and Dylan Van Den Berg in Milk – photo by CRESWICK COLLECTIVE

Review: Bill Stephens OAM