|Guy Simon & Callan Purcell|
Written by Dylan Van Den Berg
Directed by Declan Greene & Amy Sole – Designed by Mason Brown
Lighting designed by Kelsey Lee – Composer and Sound Designer, Steve Toulmin
Canberra Theatre Centre Courtyard Studio- 28th September to 1st October 2022.
Performance on 1st October reviewed by Bill Stephens
Canberra has been enjoying something of a festival of Dylan Van Den Berg plays commencing with Street Theatre’s production of “Milk” in 2021, Belco Arts production of “Ngadjung: earlier this year, and now Griffin Theatre’s superb production of “Whitefella Yella Tree” which enjoyed a short season in the Canberra Theatre Centre Courtyard Studio this week.
Van Den Berg is emerging as a fresh new indigenous voice with a gift for writing captivating dialogue that is poetic as well as questioning as he explores aspects of his culture and identity.
With “Whitefella Yella Tree” he tells a story set in the time of first contact, of two 16 year-old indigenous boys Neddy and Ty, who come across each other under a mysterious Yella tree. One is from a mountain mob and the other from a river mob.
|Callan Purcell & Guy Simon|
At first suspicious of each other, they banter and flirt, and exchange information about the white- fellas who have been turning up and causing some disruption. During the course of their conversations they fall in love, and rejoice in their situation.
However Neddy is curious about the white settlers and decides to visit them. Ty agrees to wait under the yella tree for Neddy to return. When Neddy eventually returns he is wearing a cast-off colonial army tunic, and in response to Ty’s questioning, reveals that through his association with the white-fellas he has learned to be ashamed of his relationship with Ty.
Performed in a tri-angular ply-wood setting by Mason Browne, sensitively lit by Kelsey Lee, and enhanced with an atmospheric soundscape evoking an other-worldly atmosphere allowing Van Den Berg’s language to resonate as poetic, endearing, often laugh-out-loud funny, but never fey, as his characters wrestle with the social and political questions surrounding colonisation.
As the boys, Neddy and Ty, Callan Purcell and Guy Simon offer committed, unselfconscious performances in response to the sensitive and tactful direction of Declan Greene and Amy Sole which provides space for Van Den Berg’s words to breathe.
The result is a mesmerising, thoughtful and memorable production in which the only distraction was the decision to costume the two boys in modern koori dress thereby confusing the premise of the playing being set in the time of first contact.
Images by Brett Boardman
This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW. www.artsreview.com.au