The Visitors is a perfectly crafted work of theatre that masterfully reframes a narrative to shed light on a side of a story that has for too long been unseen and unheard.
January 1788, seven clan leaders meet to swap stories, share food and discuss curious and worrying ships that have appeared on the horizon. Little is known about these ships and the people that dwell on them but protocol must be followed and acknowledgements must be made.
Jane Harrison is just so damn clever in how she ever so slightly changes the lens in which this story is formed and seen. Throughout the education system within this country, the First Nations narrative has often been seen as ancient and lacking in “modern” sophistication.
However, Harrison perfectly uses a blend of political and business clichés to effectively change the language of the meeting of the clans and by doing so, challenges the audience to push against bias education systems and consider the deep and rich political structures and inter-clan relationships of First Nation communities.
Wesley Enoch takes his lead from Harrison’s writing – leaning into the dramaturgy of the work and superbly blending First Nations tradition with cliché business and boardroom troupes. With the work being very dialogue heavy, Enoch ensures that the audience’s attention is maintained by not only the gravitas in which the performers bring the work to life, but in their small silent moments as well.
Enoch settles the work into a well maintained ebb and flow, allowing the pace of the work to keep the anxious foreboding of the oncoming ships, all the while leaving room for tender and comedic moments to bubble to the surface.
Joseph Wunujaka Althouse, Luke Carroll, Elaine Crombie, Kyle Morrison, Guy Simon, Beau Dean Riley Smith and Dalara Williams are a powerhouse ensemble. As soon as they enter the space, each performer owns their place in the story, their place on stage, knowing the breadth of their character and the weight of the story.
The ensemble works with such generous trust that character interactions are deeply emotive, furiously purposeful and conveyed with care and warmth.
Elizabeth Gadsby’s set design is dynamic in it’s detail, giving an enriching world for the actors to play on and for Karen Norris’ lighting to creative curious surprises in the nooks and grass. Brendon Boney’s sound design combines with the lighting to shift the passage of time and create an impatient knowing that time is running out.
The Visitors is theatre at it’s finest, a work of utmost importance that not only helps to break down centuries of colonial bias but it asks the audiences to consider a moment in this nation’s history from the perspective of those too long silenced.
Drama Theatre – Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney
Season continues to 14 October 2023
Image: The Visitors – photo by Daniel Boud
Review: Gavin Roach