Sunday, May 8, 2016

Sugarland by Rachael Coopes with Wayne Blair

Sugarland by Rachael Coopes with Wayne Blair.  Australian Theatre for Young People directed by Fraser Corfield and David Page.  National Tour April 22 – June 23, 2016, Canberra Theatre Centre Courtyard Studio May 6-7.

Set Designer – Jacob Nash; Lighting Designer – Juz McGuire; Sound Designer – Guy Webster; Costume Designer – Ruby Langton-Batty.

Narek Arman, Eliza Logan, Xanthe Paige, Calen Tassone, Jonas Thomson, Dubs Yunupingu
Vale, David Page.  May 4, 2016.

Sunset in Darwin
Photo by Juz McGuire

As the cast of Sugarland return to the stage in Lismore today we acknowledge and pay our respects to director David Page. For those of us fortunate enough to work with him, we were enriched by his warmth, his wicked sense of humour and his enormous heart. For our cast he was a mentor, a guide, a counsellor and friend. For all of us at ATYP he was an example of the extraordinary people that shape the performing arts in Australia. He was a prodigious talent and an inspiring human being.

In our sadness we take a moment to offer our condolences and love to the Page and wider Bangarra family. Our thoughts are with you.

David achieved things during his life that many of us could only dream of. This was made all the more extraordinary in that it was tempered with a humility, and openness that made you feel very close to him. We will carry him in our hearts always.


Review by Frank McKone
May 7

Sugarland is a simply told story, performed with consultation and permission from the Northern Territory communities of Beswick and Katherine, concerning the social positives and negatives faced by their teenage school students.  Rachael Coopes writes: I hope we have, in some way, done justice in reflecting what it’s like to be a young person living in that part of Australia, and at the same time explored what is universal about being a teenager.  What it means to be part of this fragmented, diverse, rich tapestry that is our country.  All rivers.  One river.  How are we going to fix it? How are we going to fix Country?

The positive is expressed through the story of a boy, spoken by Nina at the beginning, middle and end of the performance, going to the Gorge, seeing his Country and meditating: All rivers.  One river.

In between, we find that Nina has had to leave her immediate family, because of emotional turbulence and even violence.  She lives temporarily in Katherine in a crowded noisy house where she cannot concentrate on school study, though she is bright and wishes to succeed.  She works at the local cinema, but can’t raise enough money to find a place of her own.  Her final solution is to become pregnant because this moves her up the homeless queue to obtain subsidised housing.

Other students represented are not all Indigenous: one boy is from the Middle East with only a few years’ living in Australia; a girl has arrived, originally from Melbourne but has been shifted by her separated mum to many places around the country.  The teacher is also non-Indigenous, but is committed to her students against all the frustrations of the bureaucratic rules and regulations they face, and she must apply, not only to them as school students but in different ways according to their Aboriginality or non-Aboriginal status.

It is this last point that rang true for me.  I stood behind a person in the check-out queue in an Alice Springs supermarket on one occasion.  How did I come to know this person was Aboriginal?  As she went to put her card into the eftpos machine, it turned out to be a Basic Card – that is, the control card for the person’s income under the Intervention.  She had to leave her goods unsupervised to one side, leave the supermarket to find a Basic atm where she could take out the cash to pay her bill, come back and join the queue until she reached the checkout again.  I thought what kind of government enforces such an embarrassing put-down on its own citizens?

This memory came to the fore as, in Sugarland, Woolworths in Katherine got a mention.  Is this still the only supermarket for the Katherine and surrounding communities (up to 6 hours’ drive away, and inaccessible in much of The Wet) where a Basic card can be used?  If so, that’s entirely unethical profiteering on the backs of poverty and social stress.

As a play, Sugarland consists of short vignette scenes, running for about 90 minutes.  It is quite difficult to find the dramatic focus as the stories of the different characters develop, but finally the point of the show comes clear.  And the performances of the young actors are technically expert, with clear characterisation. 

The result is moving – both in sympathy with the characters as we understand why they are like they are, and politically as we realise the meaning of “All rivers.  One river.”  We are all one community across this country and we must all work together, in government and locally, to give everyone an equal chance.