Friday, September 15, 2023

The Visitors


Photo: David Boud

The Visitors by Jane Harrison.  Presented by Sydney Theatre Company and Moogahlin Performing Arts at Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre September 11 – October 14, 2023.

Reviewed by Frank McKone, September 14

Performed by

Joseph Wunujaka Althouse (Lawrence); Luke Carroll (Gordon)
Elaine Crombie (Jaky); Kyle Morrison (Joseph)
Guy Simon (Gary); Beau Dean Riley Smith (Albert)
Dalara Williams (Wallace)

Director – Wesley Enoch; Designer – Elizabeth Gadsby
Lighting Designer – Karen Norris; Composer & Sound Designer – Brendon Boney
Associate Director – Liza-Mare Syron; Assoc Sound Designer – Shana O’Brien
Senior Dharug & Dharawal Language Teacher – Corina Norman
Voice Coach – Charmian Gradwell; Fight Director – Nigel Poulton

The Visitors is about making a crucial decision when there are differences of opinion.

The play is set in 1788.  It is so well written and performed, and is so important, that it should be immediately filmed on YouTube and links be put up on every social media platform for everyone to see before we vote on The Voice Referendum on October 14 2023.

The Visitors won’t tell you which way to vote, but it will show you why you must vote, and make you think about the consequences of your decision.

The play – written, directed and performed by people with First Nations heritage – is a speculative historical fiction which is riveting to watch, culminating in a final stunning speech by Luke Carroll as Gordon, the leader of the Sydney Cove clan of the Eora people.  His country is where the British ships are about to disembark.

There were 7 clans in the meeting to decide what to do – these were real, covering Sydney Cove and Harbour; Northern Parramatta River; Botany Bay (where Captain Cook had landed in 1770); the South Shore; Manly Cove and North Shore; the River; and the Headlands of the Bay.

Each leader is a complex character, just as in real life, with a mix of personal attitudes and responses to their clan’s needs.  There are traditionalists; some see opportunities in making a change; some want immediate violent action; some concentrate on ethics – what is right or wrong to do.  They meet accepting a basic principle that all have an equal say, can bring in a new idea or argument, change their position in response; speak formally when they hold the message stick; and work to stay polite and respectful even when emotions are raised in conflict.  

In other words, what we see is local democracy at work in the face of possible dire threat.  Lawrence (Botany Bay) points out for example that the threat might never happen, since recently the ships had moved on from his country after only three days.  Wallace is the most concerned with insisting on ethical behaviour towards the newcomers; but this becomes problematical when from the shore they see a man being hanged on one of the ships.  But it is Gordon’s experience when a young boy, when he saw what happened when his father tried to do the right thing towards Captain Cook 18 years earlier, that brings the meeting to a resolution – and to a standing ovation.

Sydney Theatre Company, by partnering with the Indigenous Moogahlin Performing Arts, has provided an important, and in the current circumstances a necessary, service to the nation, a highlight in the 50th Birthday program of Sydney Opera House.