|Photo by Robert Catto
RAINBOW'S END, is a play by Jane Harrison, author of STOLEN (1998). Both of these plays have become part of the school HSC syllabus. RAINBOW'S END, written in 2005, is an evocation of the lives of three generations of First Nation's women: the Yorta Yorta nation, in the 1950's, in the Northern Victoria region of Sheparton and Mooroopna, on the banks of the Goulburn River. It is the gentle and tender telling of some social studies indigenous history. The history of the women seeking justice by voicing the need for better housing for their families, and finding that power through the opportunity of better education.
Nan Dear (Lily Shearer), the matriarch of the family, holds firmly to the status quo, fearing the loss of all if the family become to conspicuous in their seeking better conditions. Her Daughter, Gladys (Dalara Williams), a highly intelligent and ambitious woman, handicapped with a lack of a proper education (she cannot read or write) pursues the rights of her family and attempts to guide her daughter, Dolly (Phoebe Grainer), to opportunities that will give her agency for self-realisation. Amidst the action of the narrative we meet, the deadening effects of the wilfully ignorant, racist government representatives, all inhabited by Frederick Copperwaite. As well, a young white salesman, Errol, played by Lincoln Vickery, who falls in love with Dolly, that adds complication (serious and amusing) to the situation.
The dramaturgy of the writing of the play, by Jane Harrison, is anachronistic in formula and style. It is as if it were written in the 1950's, with short linear scenes of naturalistic action, that are handled by the Director, Liza-Mare Syron, in an unimaginative period style, in a dated design approach by Melanie Liertz, that causes an unbearable number of entrances and exits up and down a series of platforms, partly decorated by trees, lit empathetically by Karen Norris. The play and Direction reminded me, much, of the Clare Watson clumsiness in the current production of The Torrents for the Sydney Theatre Company - an actual play written in 1955.
The acting is also handicapped with a wide variation of ability, from a superficial ownership of character from Ms Williams and Grainer - mostly, simply, mouthing the textual responsibilities, to a tentative line dropping and 'cardboard' ownership by Ms Shearer in the pivotal role of Nan Dear. It is a very curious experience in a contemporary theatre and is at tremendous variance to the recent Sydney Festival production by Ms Syron and the Moogahlin Performing Arts Company of THE WEEKEND, by Henrietta Baird.
RAINBOW'S END is interesting for the telling of a very important social history, and a friend recently becoming an Australian citizen and ignorant of most of Australia's social history found the experience educational, but the formula created by the writer is so old fashioned that it hardly merits attention, except as museum theatre, from regular theatre goers.
Up at the SBW Stables Theatre now is a very important and passionate contemporary First Nations play by Meyne Wyatt: CITY OF GOLD (not to be missed). THE WEEKEND, THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO, BARBARA AND THE CAMP DOGS,and some of the output of Nakkai Lui represents the present maturity of Indigenous theatre writing and production now, and this contribution by RAINBOW'S END, to the conversation in contemporary times feels very oddly dated.