Sunday, June 12, 2016


Photo by Amanda James
National Theatre of Parramatta presents, STOLEN, by Jane Harrison, in the Lennox Theatre, Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, 2 June - 17 June.

STOLEN, by Jane Harrison, had its original premiere some 18 years ago in 1998. I had not seen (or read) the play before. It is the story of five 'victims' of the Stolen generation. It's potency is undeniable and is shaming. Memories from the RABBIT PROOF FENCE, the 2002 film by Philip Noyce, kept returning to me during this performance.

The play and its original setting has been re-thought by the Director, Vicki Van Hout and she has co-designed it with Imogen Ross, to give it a 'surrealistic' treatment that allows it to become a kind of dream – a song cycle, led by the character of Ruby. Says Ms Van Hout:
STOLEN - At its core is a provocation to the importance of acting with humanity. STOLEN follows the lives of five characters who have been affected by careless governance, from its leaders down to the smallest common denominator, the individuals who enforced this predicament upon them.
The production invites us to surrender to the story-telling skills of Ms Van Hout, her choreographic background, and it is her theatrical modes of invention, especially evident in the movement (dance) work, that gradually introduces one to a sense of aesthetic arrest that overcomes the lack of clarity in the actual spoken text by her performers. Two of the five: Henrietta Baird (Shirley), Berthalia Selina Reuben (Ruby) come from a dance background - NAISDA (as does Ms Van Hout) with little or no skills vocally for the theatre; Kerri Simpson has been mostly working in television and while having striking physical presence, too, has difficulty in holding up his verbal responsibilities; while the other two: Matthew Cooper (Jimmy) and Matilda Brown (Ann) are relatively recent graduates from Acting schools and do best. Collectively, their ability to clearly use the text of Ms Harrison to tell the story, fails, and they give most of us, who may be unfamiliar with the play, only a 'gist' of what is at stake, what is happening and why it is. One gets a sense of the horror of it, the tragedy of it, but only in a generalised and heavily endowed way from our empathy and gathering shame.

Production values in Lighting and Video Design (Toby K) and Music Composition and Sound Design (Phil Downing) were a great contributing factor to the atmosphere of the project.

I found the experience of the production gradually affective as the evening went on and of much more value, as an audience member, than the last production of the National Theatre of Parramatta, SWALLOW. STOLEN felt to be a more propitious choice for the company and its stated aims. I could understand the reason for its inclusion in this inaugural season, and schools studying the play may get most from this production. Pre-knowledge of the play will help one's ability to read the performance work of the company.

It was very interesting to have seen, the night before, the opening episode of CLEVERMAN on ABC television and to observe the progress in the story telling of the Indigenous story. To see the arc from 'victim' grief here in STOLEN to the revelation of living in an urban environment in BATTLE OF WATERLOO, last year, to the contemporary invention of an Indigenous Superhero in CLEVERMAN is exciting and encouraging. It places STOLEN in a cultural context and shines a light onto its importance in that history. It serves, too, as Ms Van Hout says in her program notes: "... as a reminder how not to act and as a reminder that young lives are the adults of the future.' The politics of CLEVERMAN reverberates in the content of STOLEN in the modern context of the refugee and the 'quarantining' of a community.

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