Written by Andrea James and Giordano Nanni
Directed by Eva Grace Mullaley
Ilbijerri Theatre Company & Belvoir Production
Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse to 15 June
Reviewed by Len Power 15 June 2017
An opportunity to learn about an unknown (to me) incident in Australian history attracted me to ‘Coranderrk’. I wasn’t disappointed.
In 1881, the men and women of Coranderrk Aboriginal Reserve near Healesville in Victoria had a simple and revolutionary goal: to continue the brilliant experiment in self-determination they had pioneered on the scrap of country left to them. The play re-enacts the testimony of the participants of the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into whether they should be allowed to continue or not.
It might have been an experiment with high ideals but the attitudes of white people and the laws of Australia at the time meant that the cards were really stacked against the participants. The testimony of the Aboriginal people living there, as well as the white people supposedly looking after their welfare, makes for a harrowing and enlightening theatrical experience.
The four cast members – Trevor Jamieson, Mathew Cooper, Jesse Butler and Ebony McGuire - all play multiple roles with Trevor Jamieson also narrating. To avoid confusion, he introduces each character as the play progresses. Although many of the characters are only seen briefly, the cast all give strong performances in their roles.
The play is directed very well by Eva Grace Mullaly and there is excellent lighting by Tegan Evans, sound design by James Henry and a fascinating set of old photographs of the actual participants presented in an audio visual design by Keith Deverell. Set and costume design by Brynna Lowen and Tegan Evans add nicely to the atmosphere of the period.
The structure of the play within a play works quite well although it seemed unnecessary for the narrator to ask the audience leading questions like ‘Would you allow your child to freeze?’ when the script had already made its point very clear. On the other hand, the moment when the narrator separated two characters on the brink of a fight and reminded them they were actors was startling and effectively theatrical.
This was an absorbing and fascinating story that needed to be told. By the end we were dying to know if the Coranderrk residents had won their case or not. You’ll have to see the play to find out.
Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s ‘Artcetera’ program (9am Saturdays) and ‘Dress Circle’ (3.30pm Mondays).