Written by Beatrix Christian
Directed by Tony Llewellyn-Jones
Canberra REP production
Canberra REP Theatre, Acton to 17 July.
Reviewed by Len Power 2 July 2021
It’s surprising to learn that Beatrix Christian’s, ‘The Governor’s Family’, was first aired in 1996 at the Australian National Playwright’s Conference at the ANU and had its first stage production in 1997. The issues of reconciliation and stolen generations have gained so much more prominence since the play was first produced.
Set in 1897 in the Government House of New South Wales, fictitious Governor Mountgarret brings a young Aboriginal rape victim, Frances Pod, in to the house to work as a maid in an act of reconciliation and compassion. His two young adult children, Lara and Gerald, bound together in idealism and rebellion against the establishment, respond to this act of kindness in their own ways, adding to an already family dysfunctionality.
The play presents a challenge for director and designer as it consists of a number of short, almost cinematic scenes moving from room to room in Government House and to and from an outdoor panoramic setting beside the harbour.
Andrew Kay has designed a striking, functional set that revolves for easy and effective transitions between scenes. The printed screens depicting the harbour area are especially well-done, giving an overall impression of the past era depicted in the play as well as the beauty of the location. Designed by Neville Pye, the sound effects, including native bird calls, add considerably to the atmosphere.
Director, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, has staged the play very well, keeping the dialogue-heavy play moving at a good pace and obtaining fine performances from his cast of six.
|From left: Caitlin Baker, Peter Holland (seated), Robbie Haltiner, Antonia Kitzel
Peter Holland gives a nicely controlled performance as the troubled and well-meaning Governor, mixing authority and personal vulnerability very well. Caitlin Baker is impressive as his daughter, Lara, a forceful personality treading a fine line between idealism and naivety.
Antonia Kitzel is very strong as the embittered and depressed Governor’s wife and Robbie Haltiner displays a nice warmth for his character of the son who falls under the spell of the Aboriginal girl. Kiara Tomkins as Frances, the Aboriginal rape victim, shows great understanding of her character and performs the role convincingly. Jack Casey as Tammey Lee Mackenzie, the Bulletin printer, brings a well-judged intensity to his final scenes.
The play covers the issues strongly but the characters only hint at past circumstances that have resulted in where they are at now, making it hard to empathise with them. It also feels longer than it needed to be and some of the dialogue is laboured.
Nevertheless this is a very interesting Australian play, well-performed and directed.
Photos by Helen Drum
Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.
This review is also published in Len Power’s blog ‘Just Power Writing’ at https://justpowerwriting.blogspot.com/.