This reworking of the play, directed by Wesley Enoch for a co-production by Sydney Theatre Company and Moogahlin Performing Arts, as part of the Sydney Opera House’s 50th Anniversary program, is not only surprisingly entertaining but also remarkably thought-provoking for the way it provides its audience with a witty expose into the way Australia’s original inhabitants may have viewed the arrival of the first fleet is given privy to a meeting of elders which plays rather like any contemporary local council meeting.
Their views are laid out rather in the manner of a contemporary local council meeting. The actors all have contemporary names, but carry traditional weapons such as shields and spears. They speak in a clever combination of traditional native tongue and contemporary English, and all wear smart executive suits throughout.
The meeting takes place on Elizabeth Gadsby’s impressive setting, sensitively lit by Karen Norris, which evokes a sandstone outcrop on the NSW coast, enhanced by an unobtrusive, though increasingly menacing, soundscape composed by Brendon Boney.
Gary (Guy Simon) chairs the meeting which has been called to discuss how the locals should, or should not, greet the newcomers. Gary’s control of the meeting is frequently challenged by Gordon (Aaron Pederson) who has his own agenda, and Jaky (Elaine Crombie) whose mob, she claims, are “lovers and fighter who love to fight”.
More conciliatory are Albert (Beau Dean Riley Smith) who has a scientific interest in the newcomers; Joseph (Kyle Morrison), and Wallace (Dalara Williams) who argue for the maintenance of traditional procedures and Lawrence (Joseph Wunujaka Althouse), a youngster, the group allow to stay as a learning exercise.
As the group argue as to whether to welcome the new arrivals or fight them off, playwright, Harrison plays with timelines. Stories of previous interactions with French explorers emerge, and the reason for Gordon’s intransigence, surfaces, and although their final decision, and its repercussion are already history, Harrison’s fascinating re-imaginings provide a riveting theatrical experience.
Playhouse – Canberra Theatre Centre, Civic Square, Canberra
Performance: Thursday 9 November 2023
Season continues to 11 November 2023
Image: The Visitors – photo by Daniel Boud
Review: Bill Stephens OAM