BWW REVIEW: Powerful and Personal, Meyne Wyatt's First Play CITY OF GOLD Elicits Laughter, Tears And Hopefully A Desire To Make Australia A Better Place For Our First Nat
Thursday 1st August 2019, 7pm, SBW Stables Kings Cross
Acclaimed actor Meyne Wyatt's first foray into writing a play delivers a brilliantly powerful piece of theatre that centers on family and community whilst unashamedly exposing the racism towards Indigenous Australians that still exists. Drawing on personal experience Wyatt uses his power as an artist to speak out about the prejudice that is literally killing his community in a hope that people will realize the extent of the violence and vilification that still happens in a society that considers itself tolerant and progressive.
Directed by Isaac Drandic, this new Australian play, in which Wyatt also stars as lead character Breythe Black, echoes Wyatt's own life to a degree whilst definitely sharing his views on society. Breythe, a young actor is found working on what is an uncomfortably insensitive advertisement that portrays Indigenous Australians as primitive people brandishing spears and wearing minimalist wrapped lap-lap 'pants' and supporting tribal paint when he receives the phone call he has been dreading. Disengaged and angered by the insensitivity of the commercial he gives up the job to fly home to Kalgoorlie, Western Australia's 'City Of Gold' that has a dirty dark undertone as arguably the most racist town in Australia according to a University of Western Australia study, to be with his family following his father's death. Two parallel plot lines are woven into the work with one following Breythe's return to his hometown and another following a tragedy that has separated the community into the Indigenous fed up with how they are treated and those that still consider them to be second class citizens whose lives don't matter, echoing the true events of the killing of 14 year old Elijah Doughty by a non-indigenous man who is allowed to maintain his anonymity.
While Breythe's mother appears to have taken to her bed in grief throughout the entire story, he is reunited with big sister Carina (Shari Sebbens), big brother Mateo (Mathew Cooper) and cousin Clifford, affectionately called Cliffhanger (Jeremy Ambrum) and they work through hurt, resentment, regret and rivalry as they deal with their grief and remember their father who lost a long battle with cancer. Mateo and Breythe particularly butt heads as they have differing views on family, duty and who was or wasn't their for their father in his final days and Carina serves as the level headed voice of maturity trying to keep the peace while Cliffhanger, a younger man with medical issues including deafness and propensity to seizures often spends time with the family who treat him as normal, unlike the majority of the community that pick on him because they think he is stupid.
With the majority of the story taking place in the back yard of their mother's home Set designers Simone Tesorieri and Simona Cosentini have created a scene of the rear of a fiberboard home colored by the red dirt that dominates the inland mining city. Jason Glenwright's lighting design shifts the work through the advertising studio shoot to the various times of the day in Kalgoorlie. When the story shifts to Breythe's memories and dreams of his father, the stage is presented with an ominous red wash as if his father is trying to send him a message. For the parallel storyline, a subtle shift in lighting delineates the changes in timeline.
Having the opportunity to see Wyatt present his leading character makes this work even more powerful as he has used CITY OF GOLD to get his message out to the audience, so this is much more than a performer playing a part. Wyatt's performance is gripping in its raw honesty and his monologue at the top of the second act is possibly the most powerful piece of theatre to hit an Australian stage. Presented from an anchored place of personal opinion, observation and lived understanding it is a solid hit to the senses asking the audience to wake up to reality and seek change. Wyatt has infused humour into the work as he engages the audience to relate to the family so they see them as like any other family whilst also making people realise that Breythe's family and community are contending with issues that many in the audience would never have to contend with simply because of the color of their skin.
Mathew Cooper delivers the older Mateo's understanding of the world and his own family with a passionate volatility that covers an underlying desire for world with justice, whether that be in the form of a fairer assessment of who was there for their father in his final days or a wish for the Indigenous community to be treated the same as the non-indigenous community. Jeremy Ambrum provides a degree of comic foil as Cliffhanger, a younger man who still has a sense of innocence to him along with a generous caring spirit that shows deep devotion to his cousins and his late uncle. Carina is given a gentle gravitas by Shari Sebbens as the older sister steps into the role of leader of the family now that their mother is no in a condition to control her brothers and neither brother is ready to step up to the responsibility.
As the memory of their father Maitland Schnaars creates a striking image as a patriarch who wanted to teach his sons, and his nephew, about their culture and their roots whilst also wanting them to rise to their potential, as evidenced in his support of Breythe's acting pursuit. As the memories shift to the later days with their father Schnaars ensures that the father morphs into more of a nightmare that haunts Breythe who is already having regrets at not being there for his father's last days. As the white characters, particularly the Police Acting Commander who tries to ignore Carina's presence at a press conference and police Sergeant Simmonds and Constable Andrews, Christopher Stollery and Anthony Standish embody the problems with white society and their lack of respect and understanding of First Nations people.
CITY OF GOLD is an exceptionally powerful work that everyone, regardless of heritage, should see. Whilst the story is firmly set in Kalgoorlie, with many local references made and frequent slipping into the Wonguthi Indigenous language, this is very much an Australian story with a message for all people, particularly those not of Indigenous origin. Go and see this incredibly important work that will have you laughing, crying, fired up to demand a better world for our First Nations People and stunned into silence as the pieces of the stories start to fit.