Saturday, September 15, 2018


Written by Nathan Maynard – Produced by Tasmania Performs
Directed by Isaac Drandic – Designed by Richard Roberts

Lighting designed by Rachel Burke – Sound composed and designed by Ben Grant

The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre – 13 – 15 September 2018

Performance on 13th September reviewed by Bill Stephens

Nathan Maynard’s elegiac, slice-of-life love letter to his family shines a spotlight on an aboriginal community which for generations has eked out a living harvesting baby mutton birds during the annual mutton birding season on Tasmania’s remote Big Dog Island.   The journey to the mutton bird rookeries is a tradition Tasmanian aborigines have undertaken for hundreds of years. Maynard’s play focusses on the Duncan family, led by patriarch Ben (Maitland Schnaars) and his wife, Stella (Della Rae Morrison), who are hosting a reunion for the birding season.

The Duncan Family 
Della Rae Morrison (Stella) - Maitland Schnaars (Ben) - James Slee (front-Clay)
Mathew Cooper (Ritchie) - Lisa Mazza (Marlene) - Nazaree Dickerson (Lou)
Helping out are their cocky son Ritchie (Mathew Cooper), their daughter Lou (Nazaree Dickerson) and her teenage son, Clay (James Slee) who lives in Melbourne and is having his first experience harvesting mutton birds. Clay is keen to succeed at mutton birding but is distracted by the fact that his no-good white father has not turned up as promised.

Not a lot happens on Big Dog Island, and so the Duncans spend their time bickering over early morning breakfasts, and sharing secrets during late night parties on the beach or during sweaty days in the plucking sheds. There is little drama in their interaction, not the least because of the scatter-gun delivery of some of the cast, which made it difficult to catch many of the lines.

Trevor Jamieson (Neil) - Lisa Mazza (Marlene) 
The  funniest and most compelling moments are generated by the exuberant performances of Lisa Mazza as Stella’s potty-mouthed sister Marlene, and Trevor Jamieson as her impish, randy no-hoper boyfriend, Neil, and the repercussions of Marlene's decision, after some comical canoodling on the beach, to end her long-term affair with Neil, which leads to the revelation from Lou, that she’s lesbian.
Charismatic Jamieson also doubles as the ranger, but his magnificent white beard is so distinctive that it’s impossible to accept that the ranger is not Neil in his day job.

Apart from its depiction of family dynamics, the main interest is the play is enactment of the rituals associated with mutton birding. Much of the dialogue takes place as the young birds, represented by white rags, are dragged from their nests, their necks broken, and then strung on long sticks and carried off to the plucking sheds.

There are poetic moments in the references to the mutton birds which migrate thousands of kilometres each year, only to return to the same burrows to breed, and in the scene in which young Clay summons up the courage to plunge his arm into a mutton bird burrow, and then deciding to release the precious white mutton bird leader he discovers.

Richard Robert’s spare panoramic setting effectively conjures up the remoteness of the island beaches, and the plucking sheds, but it’s a pity that a better solution could not have been found for the all-important kitchen scenes, which are cramped to one side of the stage.

With “The Season” Maynard has written a shrewd, charming play  memorable for the uniqueness of its setting, its colourful characters who like the mutton birds return each year to their special island, and for the insights it offers into little-known activity of mutton-birding.

                                                         Photos by James Henry
        This review also appears in Australian Arts Review.