Above : playwright Meyne Wyatt stars in his play City of Gold at the SBW Stables Theatre. Featured image : Meyne Wyatt, photo credit Brett Boardman.
This co-production between Queensland Theatre and Griffin Theatre Company introduces us to the profoundly direct playwriting and performance style of Meyne Wyatt. This gifted communicator cuts through politically-correct rhetoric to reveal an actually questionable, shaky status quo where cultural inequality and racism still play on routine repeat in this country.
The play opens with a scene in fierce parody of the filming of that controversal TV ad we have all seen to promote the lamb industry. That one actually starring Wyatt which neatly over-jovialises the comfort of diverse peoples now on this land as all boat people having a BBQ. This dig at the advertising industry starts the play off with signature incisive comedy and slick shock value.
This commentary on subtle racism and the industry returns in a huge, virtuosic monologue to begin Act Two. Actor Breythe in this story and playwright Meyne deliver a rapid fire assault on the Australian existence for Aboriginal people. Especially sobering was the mention of identity and career options for a labelled ‘indigenous’ actor, explained as problematic from the evocative red-soiled backyard set of the Griffin stage itself.
Australia pats its own back as a ‘unified’ nation with an efficiently updated outlook on issues of gender, sexuality, religion, race, disability and inclusion. We believe these to be treated carefully. So
much of this play’s text in either harsh monologue or passing reaction in dialogue highlights how our ‘advanced’ modern treatment of the Aboriginal people can still be seen and felt as lacking.
Above : Shari Sebbens delivers an outstanding performance as Carina
Surrounding the keen observations and continued reference to tensions between white and black residents in regional areas and cities alike is a huge-hearted family story of grief and ‘getting on with it’ following the death of a father.
This snapshot of survival and tragedy and frenzied attempts to escape dangerous cruelty in a racist regional mining town makes it impossible for us to look away in anger or shame at any point.
A magnetic and moving piece of theatre, City of Gold is a timely and important invasion of our safe theatrical land. Its taut emotional tessitura stretches to breaking point over the two-plus hours
it holds us in a necessary vice.
The well-cast and vibrant ensemble of actors assembled have wide and recognised experience in contemporary Australian productions. They and the subtleties of a detailed script are directed with impressive nuance by Isaac Drandic, The interactions exude humble warmth in well-paced moments of alarming emotional outpouring from this cleverly structured work.
Wyatt’s writing in short, sharp scenes with dream sequences and flashback included are effective reiterations of genuine stresses. The storytelling is studded with reference to indigenous culture. It highlights as hazardous any description of people, locations and actions as ‘the other’ from both sides of the racial or geographical fence.
Such outbursts are greased with cleverly blended shades of very successful humour in our complex vernacular. The play, even though set in our apparently enlightened time, hurtles to a very sudden, shocking and undesirable denouement. This is a heartbreakingly savage social tragedy which will shock our modern sensibilities.
Mathew Cooper stars as Matteo in City of Gold
Shining with lucid brilliance on the stage beside Meyne Wyatt, and an anchor for the story’s family is Shari Sebbens in a powerhouse performance of his sister Carina. The inclusion of such an experienced TV, film and and stage performer in this knockout ensemble and alongside Wyatt is a key ingredient in its impact.
Jeremy Ambrum wins hearts immediately with his layered portrayal of the cousin Cliffhanger. Heshows significant range as he uses the stage well. Rich stories result from even his smallest utterance or gesture.
Maitland Schnaars moves with stunning ease through flashback time frames. In moments of prophetic willy wagtail mime he instantly transforms the small Griffin space into a chilling immense vista.
Matt Cooper is achingly good in the role of elder brother Matteo. His portrayal shows a laconic Wongi man who has seen too much and is justifiably trapped by the drink or anger. It establishes him immediately to be an actor commanding the stage with dramatic deftness equal to his talented peers in this production.
The rendering of Matteo’s continued frustration is one of many poignant, honest and indisputable warnings this important theatre moment in our history delivers. All performances and confident writing make City of Gold a relevant confrontation and essential viewing.
City of Gold plays at the SBW Stables Theatre until August 31.