May 01, 2000

Away from Home

by Jane Harrison

Ilbijerri Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Theatre Co-Operative and Playbox Theatre

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

It is always the hope of theatre that it has currency. But rarely does a work touch the moment like Jane Harrison’s play Stolen. The Ilbijerri Company’s Adelaide season, part of a national and international tour which includes the UK and Asia, opens in the very week when, as the result of a leaked Government submission, Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Herron has quixotically taken to discussing the policy of enforced separation of Aboriginal families as a matter of semantics and percentages.

Stolen is not concerned with how many children constitute a generation any more than the RSL needs to say how many beachheads make an ANZAC. Instead, the play is concerned with giving perspective and substance to experiences which few can really imagine and some would choose to ignore. Based on first hand accounts and developed through workshops from 1992 until its first performance at Playbox in 1997, then remounted for the Melbourne Festival in 1998, Stolen follows the paths of five children and explores the long term consequences of separation for them and their families.

The Thursday night performance has been held up by some glitches with the backstage headsets so director Enoch Wesley comes out to check the crowd and kill some time. A resident director with STC, Wesley, already known to us with his production of Deborah Mailman’s one person show The Seven Stages of Grieving , is someone who prefers to trust the tale. Resisting any temptation to gain easy leverage for the play’s concerns from the ubiquitous headlines in the mainstream press, the director exhorts us to reflect on his company’s work and make our own judgements.

In the opening tableau five children wait silently in line with their bags packed. They look into the audience and for an age we look back. As director, Wesley is astutely concerned with the pace of things. And, like Robert Lepage he encourages us to focus on detail and the symbolic meaning of objects- iron beds in a dormitory, a row of birthday presents unreceived over twenty six years, a child’s toy given to ensure silence after sexual abuse.

The performances are precise and well-directed. As Jimmy, Elliot Maynard carries a boyish uncertainty even into adulthood. The extended ceremonial depiction of his suicide in prison is as sorrowful as it is grim, while Kylie Belling as Ruby moves from withdrawal into madness, such that when she is reunited with her relatives she is too disconnected to recognise them. These are the extreme victims of separation. Shirley, played by Pauline Whyman loses contact with her family, but reunited in adulthood, her mother can share again in the life of her grandchildren. Sandy, played with vibrant energy by Stan Yarramunua, retains an unstoppable buoyancy and Anne (Tammy Anderson) maintains a love for both her biological and foster families.

Stolen gives a strong sense of the experiences of these children and their various destinies and Wesley Enoch, designer Richard Roberts and lighting designer Matt Scott provide imaginative and crisp production values. The effect is neither didactic nor manipulative. Instead we can do what theatre, at its best, encourages us to do, equally- inhabit experiences that are not our own, and then reflect on them .

The Adelaide Review, May 2000.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment