Saturday, May 14, 2022

A Letter for Molly


A Letter for Molly by Brittanie Shipway.  Ensemble Theatre, Sydney May 9 – June 4, 2022.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
Opening Night May 13

Director/Understudy:    Ursula Yovich; Assistant Director: Erin Taylor
Visual Art & Cultural Consultant
: Alison Williams
Set & Costume Designer
: Hugh O’Connor
Lighting Designer
: Kelsey Lee; Composer & Sound Designer: Brendon Boney
Video Designer
: Morgan Moroney
Stage Manager
: Lauren Tulloh; Assistant Stage Manager: Bronte Schuftan
Costume Supervisor
: Sara Kolijn; Workshop Dramaturg: Miranda Middleton
Technical Creative Intern
: Aroha Pehi; Movement Consultant: Scott Witt

Miimi - Lisa Maza
Darlene/Nurse - Paula Nazarski
Linda/Receptionist - Nazaree Dickerson
Renee - Brittanie Shipway
Nick/Doctor/Photographer - Joel Granger
Understudy - Toby Blome

*In respect of Gumbaynggirr culture, characters are listed in order of Elder status.

Photos by Prudence Upton

The four women in the opening fire and smoking ceremony

A Letter for Molly is a heart-warming celebration of more than survival over four generations of Gumbayngirr women.  It is a truth-telling record of their lives as ordinary people since the 1960s – when Miimi forcefully tells her daughter Darlene never to say she is ‘Aboriginal’ but just ‘Australian’ – to  modern times when Renee is determined to become a successful Indigenous artist.  

Humour is central to their culture: their strength in difficult times, and the core strength of the theatre-work they have created.  If you want to find Gumbayngirr country, near Nambucca on the New South Wales north coast, just look for the Big Banana!

Each woman gives birth to a daughter – the source of love, loyalty, and struggle to survive as a single mother.  Despite a kind of recognition in the 1967 Referendum which gave the Federal Government constitutional power for the benefit of Aboriginal people; despite the Mabo decision which established land rights in the 1990s; and despite Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s 2008 national apology for the taking away of Aboriginal children by Federal and State Governments over the previous 100 years – the three events are made to form a background time-line in the audio soundtrack – the truth is that by Renee’s time the Gumbayngirr language is fading, even while traditions of spiritual connections remain.

Conventions and ways of living have changed, too.  In the play, time shifts back and forth and perhaps the funniest scene is when Renee, who shares a house with a gay man, Nick, in a genuine friendship without sex, takes a pregnancy test, the result of a brief fling elsewhere.

Brittanie Shipway and Joel Granger
as Renee and Nick
in A Letter for Molly

Renee succeeds as an artist after making a different decision about her personal life than her predecessors.  Her story of artistic creation, in an odd and unusual way, parallels the creation of this work of theatre art in which she appears.  

There is much to learn while you thoroughly enjoy the twists and turns of life with the Gumbayngirr people, received with great enthusiasm by the opening night audience with typical Ensemble warmth of feeling.  Not to be missed.

The family photo taken by Nick:
Miimi, seated (Lisa Maza)
L-R behind: Linda (Nazaree Dickerson); Darlene (Paula Nazarski); Renee (Brittanie Shipway)
in A Letter for Molly