Friday, December 3, 2021

Theatre: The Bleeding Tree

by Angus Cerini

Blue Room Theatre

Until December 11

  

Angus Cerini’s The Bleeding Tree is a remarkable work. The Helpmann Award winner for best play in 2016, its Blue Room season is passionate, poetic and immensely powerful.

The fine actor Ian Michael makes his directorial debut with a play he’s dreamt of staging since he saw it five years ago, and he and his outstanding cast do complete justice to Cerini’s vision.

The Bleeding Tree is a “murder” without a mystery. It begins with a gunshot as the audience is entering the theatre. We learn immediately there’s a body – represented by a pile of dirt on the floor – and that it’s that of a brutal drunkard who’s the husband of a woman (Karla Hart) and father of two sisters (Abbie-Lee Lewis and Ebony McGuire).

He’s returned home from the pub, shit-faced and terrifying. One of his girls fells him with a blow to the shins, another clubs him unconscious on the ground before the mother puts a shotgun to his neck and blows it apart. “Thank God the prick is dead”.

It’s also a horror story without the traditional tension. The physical threat posed by the man is over with his death, but the horror of him is recalled by the three women in awful detail throughout the play.

The lack of traditional tension continues as three people – two neighbours and the local postman – who come to the house quickly piece together what has happened.

They haven’t the slightest intention of informing on the women, though. If anything, they help the women get their story – the man had left them and gone to stay with his (fictitious) sister Marg  “somewhere up north” – sorted and assist with the disposal of the body.

But this is no ordinary story, and it’s told in an extraordinary way.

To begin with, the dialogue is entirely in verse, most often blank, sometimes in rhyme. It’s a dark liturgy of outrage, of fear and fury at the despicable man who blighted their lives.

And it is dominated by a ferocious metaphor; the women have no means of disposing of his body, but their first visitor remarks, ostensibly apropos of nothing, that under the right circumstances, an exposed body will decompose in three days.

It’s an idea worth acting on.

The body is strung up on a tree in the back yard where the family bled out the goats they slaughtered – literally where the dingoes and crows could molest him.

And they do, along with the rats, the flies and their maggots, the ants, even the chooks, and finally, taking its long-awaited vengeance, the postman’s dog.

It’s a righteous carnival of the excarnation of the body, and Cerini takes it further than even Zoroastrians do; after the scavengers have done their business, the mother boils the bones into a broth to fertilise the roses she intends to grow. Like Dylan Thomas’s lovers, his “bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone” – but for this man there will be no stars at elbow and foot, and Death will have its dominion.

It sounds gruesome, I guess it is, but you feel like cheering every time a rat climbs out of the neck wound or the dog crunches a bone; it’s an excoriation devoutly to be wished.

It’s also a deeply moral story in the face of the daily real-life horrors faced by women and children at the hands of violent husbands and fathers, and, in the hands of an Indigenous director and cast, the unretributed violence committed on the inhabitants of Australia by its colonisers.

The production is faultless; Tyler Hill’s set – a box of latticed wood, somewhere between an enclosed lean-to and a cell, floats in darkness above the theatre floor, it’s interior lit menacingly by Chloe Ogilvie. This is a project made for Rachael Dease, and her sound design begins as a soft growl, a dirge and a buzz, but folds into a soft hymn as the ritual obliteration of the man proceeds.

In this stultifying, defiled but somehow sacred place, Hart, Lewis and McGuire are avenging angels, priestesses at the sacrifice of the un-innocent. Their anger, and their humanity, are incandescent.

This year the West Australian theatre has emerged from the pandemic better and more vital than could have been hoped. The Bleeding Tree is an amazing way to finish it. Do not miss.

 

An edted version of this review appeared in Seesaw Magazine (www.seesawmag.coom.au)

 

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Theatre: Dating Black

 by Narelle Thorne

Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company

Directed by Bruce Denny

Choreographer Nadia Martich

Set and Costume designer Matthew Raven

Lighting designer Peter Young

Sound designer Ella Portwine

Dramaturg Polly Low

Subiaco Arts Centre November 18 - 27, 2021 

Bobbi Henry, Tegan Mulvany and Derek Nannup

Love is all around in Yirra Yaakin’s brand spanking new humdinger of a rom-com – and as always with love, things are never black and white.

Dating Black, the debut play by Narelle Thorne, is a laugh-a-minute romp through the minefield of dating and romance, but it’s a lot more than that.

It achieves a remarkable double – it’s as light as air, the story of five really nice people who all get what they want and need without serious conflict or major setbacks, but I think you can make a case that it’s also one of the more significant new plays on the Perth stage in recent times. I’ll get back to that.

The five nice people are BFFs Djinda (Bobbi Henry) and Hope (Tegan Mulvany), Djinda’s brother, Marley (Maitland Schnaars) her auntie Maisie (Rayma Morrison) and a new bloke in town, Justin (Derek Nannup).

Djinda’s moved back in with family after her marriage ended badly, and like Hope, who is also single, is absolutely available. Her aunt Maisie is no obstacle to their romantic ambitions, but the same can’t be said of Marley, whose protective nature is suffocating.

The girls are out on the town (they’ve told Maisie they’re going to “church” but they mean the local nightclub of that name, not a building with a pulpit in it), and run into Justin, who’s visiting on business.

Djinda and Justin get on like a house doused in petrol and set alight, which is fine by Hope and Maisy – not so much with Justin though. Ah, but the course of true love…

Thorne writes with sweet insight and a fetching, light feel for comedy, and she and first-time director Bruce Denny make Dating Back’s 75 minutes a rib-tickling pleasure.

And it’s brought to life by a fabulous bit of casting; Bobbi Henry is a knockout as Djinda, mercurial and sexy as all get-out, and Tegan Mulvany matches her fire and sparkle; Derek Nannup is a perfect foil for Henry, debonair and sincere, he does the dark horse to a T.

Let’s give it up for Rayma Morrison; a born comedian, she’s as wise as she is wisecracking, impish, the funny bone of the show – we should all have an auntie like her.

And a brother like Maitland Schnaars; this excellent, statuesque actor is clearly enjoying working a comedy, and his dignity shines through even when he’s the butt of many of Dating Black’s jokes. (By the way, Schnaar’s daughter Cezera is starring in the brilliant Little Women at the Blue Room – check out your diary, you’ve only got a week to catch them both!)

So why is Dating Black so important? It’s the most natural yet development of a significant change in Aboriginal, and especially Noongar, theatre so powerfully led by Yirra Yaakin under its artistic directors Kyle Morrison and now Eva Grace Mullaley.

In it, Indigenous people, their lives, their familial and community cultures, are not represented as needing explanation let alone justification.

In Dating Black there is no signposting or drum-beating at all (and I’m not here suggesting that they haven’t been legitimate, or necessary, given the history of colonialism, neglect and oppression in this country). The people of this play are leading lives on their own terms, and our common humanity goes without saying.

Just as important, and a source of great inspiration, is the continued rise of Noongar language. Yirra Yaakin, with their all-Noongar Hecate and Fists of Fury in the last two Perth Festivals, are leading this process, as are performers like Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse, with their lullabies, songs, and now even an operetta, in language.

The increasingly complex and insightful Welcomes to Country are another platform for knowledge and appreciation of the language.    

Dating Black is in English, sprinkled with Noongar words and phrases that are becoming better known and added to our general vocabulary.

This is a wonderful thing, because Noongar is a beautiful and expressive language. Its return as a widely-known and naturally adopted living language, the de facto second language of West Australians if you will, is something we should all hope for and look forward to.

 


Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Theatre: Queer as Flux

Written and performed by Stace Callaghan

Directed by Leah Mercer
Lighting designer Peter Young

Sound Designer Olivia Cosham

Blue Room Theatre October 26 -  November 13, 2021

There’s nowhere else to begin but with admiration – for the powerful and courageous life Stace Callaghan has lived and continues to live, for their emotional insight and poetic command of language, and the sheer energy and honesty of their performance.

Callaghan has taken the world head on – not because they have an axe to grind, a sermon to deliver or a point to prove, but because they are prepared to reach out for freedom, and to wear the scars that come with it.

Growing up in that big old dirty river town Brisbane in the 1980s was tough enough for any kid (I did it a couple of decades before then and it was no joke); behind the glitz of Expo on the South Bank and the maroon ecstasies of Lang Park and King Wally Lewis, there were the shadows of Bjelke-Petersen and Hinze, the white shoe brigade and Commissioner Terry Lewis.

For the queer community it was a hostile, even dangerous, place to be.

But Callaghan survived it, in some inward sense thrived in it, and the person who emerges so clearly as they tell their story, is an inspiration, not just to LGBTIQ+ people but to anyone who seeks freedom and change where it is not encouraged or even available.

Of course there are scars (and those who might struggle with physical ones should be warned – though not discouraged), and Callaghan is remarkably frank about those they has suffered and, by and large, overcome.

Such is their felicity with language, though, and such is their sweet soul, that the journeys they take us on have touching pleasure and sharp humour of their own.

So that transition, in the universal as well as the personal, is their purpose and subject (they delight in Transperth by the way), whether it’s the story of how their mum and dad have changed, or the last moments of their beloved dog.

And Queer as Flux has spirituality, anchored in Callaghan’s real life but aloft on their imagination; so a recurring encounter with whales on Hervey Bay in Central Queensland becomes a phantasmagorical meditation on ecology and change.

Leah Mercer, whose work with her The Nest Ensemble co-founder Margie Brown Ash has produced some of the most memorable Blue Room performances of the last decade, directs with astuteness and touch, and the interplay between light and sound (Peter Young and Olivia Cosham) is nanometre-perfect.

Unfortunately, somewhere in the process of organising Queer as Flux’s content, an awkward, superfluous character, the drag queen Polly Tickle, is injected into the narrative (though not Callaghan’s life, where Polly plays no discernible part).

Polly’s main purpose seems to be to provide a LGBTIQ+ historical context into Callaghan’s own story, but much of it is common knowledge and that which isn’t could have been left to Stace themselves to tell – much more effectively.

That aside, this is a powerful performance and an insight into lives lived differently, and bravely, that will reward your attention.      


Sunday, October 10, 2021

Theatre: Animal Farm

by Van Badham

from the novel by George Orwell

Black Swan State Theatre Company

Directed by Emily McLean

Set and Costume designer Fiona Bruce

Composer and sound designer Rachael Dease

Lighting designer Karen Cook

Video designer Michael Carmody

Performed by Andrea Gibbs, Alison van Reeken and Megan Wilding

Heath Ledger Theatre until October 24, 2021

Alison van Reeken, Andrea Gibbs and Megan Wilding (pic Daniel J Grant)
In 1992 the political scientist Francis Fukayama claimed the final victory of Western liberal democracy over its various competitors and, on that basis, declared The End of History in his hugely influential book with that title.

Just goes to show how wrong you can be.

The fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet empire and its satellites that Fukayama saw as the dawn of some kind of political stasis might also have consigned George Orwell’s Animal Farm – the savage parable of the Stalinism he felt had betrayed democratic socialism and attacked objective truth – to the remainder bin of admirable curiosities like its near-contemporary, Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator .

Van Badham’s stage adaptation of Animal Farm is a brave attempt to release Orwell’s parable from the specifics of the mid-twentieth century USSR and put contemporary flesh on its bones.

It’s successful in very large measure because of scorching performances from three tremendous actors, Andrea Gibbs, Alison van Reeken and Megan Wilding, who play its 17 “live” characters and a host of others on film and audio.

They are carefully placed front and centre, facing straight out to the audience, by the director Emily McLean, who shows the respect and felicity for clear, cleanly delivered dialogue and simplicity of action that makes her work so constantly accessible and satisfying.

Which is not to say this Animal Farm is merely neat or tidy. Gibbs, van Reeken and Wilding keep things gloriously salty, and video designer Michael Carmody and composer/sound designer Rachael Dease rub it into the wounds with intent.

The result is seriously funny as well as deadly serious, as brightly energetic as previous attempts, notably the CIA-funded 1954 film version, have been grim plodders.

Animal Farm happens as much on a gigantic screen as on stage, and Carmody’s effects are terrific; he films the cast in their stage characters and many more beside (a total, at a rough count, of 37) interspersed with mocked up media reports, mainstream and on-line media and revolutionary graphics.

It’s a whirligig of imagery and, combined with the three marvellous performances, an exciting experience.

But does it hit its mark, both as an adaptation of Orwell’s original and as an invention of its own?

The answer to the first question is a resounding yes.  The Orwellian nightmare is fiercely imagined, his outrage and despair clearly displayed. The process of totalitarianism, its betrayal of noble heroism and the common good, and the re-writing of history it requires, is brutally exposed.

The story of Napoleon and Squealer, Mollie and Snowball, Benjamin, Mr Jones and the tragic Boxer – so familiar they need not be repeated here – are retold with fidelity to the original.

I think, though, an opportunity – or at least an accuracy – has been missed in this updated Animal Farm, although it’s hard to level blame on this production or Badham.  This piece was conceived in 2019 and was intended to be performed just before the 2020 US Elections. It’s been updated right up to the paroxysm of January 2021 in the US Capitol Building.

It’s obvious enough, given the times, that Trump/Napoleon should be the successor to Stalin/Napoleon, but he really isn’t. Trump has been a spectacular failure as a would-be dictator, destroyer of the truth and politician. He’s no Napoleon.

A far better example of the type that caused Orwell so much grief and anger is on 24/7 news cycle display much closer to home.

Instead of “Make Animal Farm Great” as the ubiquitous slogan for this rambunctious, bitterly funny tour de force of a production, I’d suggest “How Good are Animals” would have been closer to the mark, and to the bone.         


Friday, September 3, 2021

Theatre: My Shout

Undercurrent Theatre Company

Devised and performed by Claire Appleby, Scarlet Davis, Shaun Johnston, Christopher Moro and David Stewart

Directed by Samuel Gordon Bruce
Blue Room Theatre until Sept 17, 2021

My Shout is a snappy, even-handed trip through the jungle of social and antisocial drinking. It makes no excuses for its excesses, and doesn’t dismiss its pleasures.

That makes it both frank and restrained – a high-wire act that’s not easy to achieve in dealing with something so dear to (most of) our hearts but so damaging to it and many of our other organs.

It’s also an exciting achievement in ensemble performance, combining the skills of narrative, physical, musical and circus theatre.

That’s not surprising, as the performers are all graduates of WAAPA’s excellent Theatre Making course, and they put their wide-ranging talents and training to the best possible use here.

The play’s structure is straightforward enough; four friends, Clare (Appleby). Scarlett (Davis), Sean (Johnston) and Kris (Moro) are out for a Saturday night booze-up.

During their customary weekend ceremony, from footy-watching first beers to drinking games at midnight and dueling shots at dawn, they run the gamut from euphoria to morose emptiness, from playfulness to sombre introversion.

Scarlett, sober after three months off the grog, a little detached and a whole lot more observant, acts as a kind of travel guide for their journey, Kris plays along, Sean is in boots and all and self-destructive, and Clare – well she’s something else.

Two routines Appleby features in, one a supercharged choreography that ends with some table-top skollery, another a frenetic karaoke of The Champs’ Tequila, are memorably hilarious (don’t try either at home kids).

They are among many ensemble sequences that punctuate the show, giving it a structure very like a musical; for this the work of the fifth cast member, the musician David Stewart, whose electric guitar and tech-driven sound bed is crucial and outstanding.

Director Samuel Gordon Bruce has a fine eye for the placement of action in the small Blue Room space, and the effects he and the ensemble create often seem much bigger than the forces at their disposal.

My Shout is a cracking show; it’s a spritzy entertainment spiked with a lot worth saying. You should try a glass of it.

Photo: Kaifu Studios

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Theatre: Unbound

Devised and performed by Bridget Le May, Gala Shevtsov, Hannah Evelyn, Hock Edwards, Kynan Hughes and Ryan Marano

Designed by Bridget Le May
Sound design by Bec Price
Blue Room Theatre until Sept 10, 2021

 

There’s a easy trap for critics, when confronted with a work like Unbound, to write a thesis rather than a review, especially when present day political and intellectual issues and stances collude or collide with works of art from other times (here’s a recent example: www.seesawmag.com.au/2021/07/is-it-time-to-retire-west-side-story).

It’s not my practice to buy into these arguments, unless the work demands it by how it’s been adapted.

I will, though, say my piece about William Shakespeare and his female characters, whose words, if not their personages, are at the heart of Unbound.

The late Harold Bloom, in his magnum opus Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, argues that the playwright was more interested in character than action, and in that pursuit, created many of the most memorable women in all literature. Rosalind, Cleopatra, Juliet, Portia, Lady Macbeth – these are only some notable examples – are vivid, powerful figures capable of leading their circumstances, and often their play’s male characters, by the force of their personality.

I’m not sure any other writer – certainly any other male writer – has peopled their work with so many, so compelling and complete, women.

So, with that said, I approached Unbound not as a critique of Shakespeare but as a piece using his work and words to create a perspective on feminism and the patriarchy.

Their technique, the cut-up method, was codified by the American writer William S Burroughs and famously adopted by David Bowie. It simply involves cutting phrases, sentences and passages from existing work and pasting them either at random or with judicious editing, to create a new, even if familiar, work.

The devisors of Unbound, Bridget Le May, Gala Shevtsov, Hannah Evelyn, Hock Edwards, Kynan Hughes and Ryan Marano, have plenty to work with – the complete works of Shakespeare (they say only one play, King John, is missing from the free-for-all).

The first act, The Kingdom, tells the story of three royal sisters struggling for what is rightfully theirs and mere survival, against the machinations and violence of the men around them.

For convenience they take the names of famous Shakespearean characters, Ophelia (Evelyn), Hamlet (Edwards), Emilia (Shevtsov), Iago (Marano) and Volumnia (Le May), but their words and actions are drawn from across the plays.

It’s a striking dramatic effect, well supported by some stylish costuming (by Hughes) and set design (by Le May), but it struggles with tempo and clarity.

Overburdened with high passion and intensity, the dialogue’s temperature is feverish, and the narrative melts in its heat.

The second Act, The Forest, is a much shorter, slighter creation, but in some ways more successful. In large part a dance that weaves through torrents of falling paper petals (the device used to create the effect was quite something), it was pretty, nicely devised and, after the sound and fury of the first act, it was something of a relief that it signified nothing.

      

 

 

 

      

 

 


Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Theatre: Borderline

Written and performed by Evelyn Snook

Music by B Gosper

Directed by Kylie Bywaters

Design and AV by Clare Testoni

Lighting designer Jasmine Lifford

Blue Room until July 31, 2021

 

When an artist like Evelyn Snook stands alone on a stage and tells us the whys and wherefores of their life, criticism is largely an arid exercise, or at least one that operates on the margins of the drama.

A person’s life is, after all, their own, and it’s not for us to pass judgment on it, or even its worth as performance.

That said, Snook is an engaging and accurate performer who is able to convincingly and movingly reconstruct their battle with Borderline Personality Disorder, the insidious and potentially dangerous condition that affects perhaps one in fifty people, particularly teenage and young adult women.

Its symptoms – among them fear of abandonment, rapid changes in self-image and self-identity, wild mood swings, risky behavior and self-harm – make life and relationships extremely challenging. 

Tragically, the risk of suicide is ever-present (studies suggest up to 10% of people suffering from BSD take their own life).

It’s admirable that Snook can take us through the toughest battles they have fought with candour, positivity and humour. The place they have reached now is clearly precious and liberating to them, and we can do nothing but share their joy.

The other pleasure of Borderline is the quality of the production the director Kylie Bywater and producer Kailyn Crabbe have built around Snook. The involvement of the award-winning shadow puppeteer and theatre maker Clare Testoni is crucial to the productions success. The show looks lovely, and the subtle, unobtrusive AV elements add immeasurably to it.

The revelation of Borderline is its musician, B Gosper. They sit quietly in a corner, with just a small smile and a guitar, and the songs they sing that punctuate the performance are sweet, gentle and deeply moving.

I would gladly listen to to the songs alone; as part of this extremely moving and uplifting show, they are a small miracle. As is Borderline.


Monday, July 26, 2021

Theatre: York

by Chris Isaacs and Ian Michael

Black Swan State Theatre Company

Directed by Clare Watson and Ian Wilkes

Designed by Zoe Atkinson

Composer and sound designer Dr Clint Bracknell

Lighting designer Lucy Birkenshaw

Performed by Shakira Clanton, Isaac Diamond, Ben Mortley, Benjamin and Jacob Narkle (alternating), Sophie Quin, Maitland Schnaars, Alison van Reeken and Elise Wilson

Heath Ledger Theatre until August 1, 2021

 

Maitland Schnaars
Even without its qualities (there are many), Chris Isaac and Ian Michael’s York is among the most significant works to come to the State Theatre Centre stage over its first decade. 

It’s the product of a web of training and experience, inspiration and experience, knowledge and sheer talent from sources as wide as WAAPA, the Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company and the Blue Room, The Last Great Hunt and others of our independent companies, the WA Youth Theatre Company and Black Swan – both at its genesis and in its current status as the State Theatre Company.

What Michael and Isaacs have done is take a location (the barely-disguised old York hospital and its site) and peeled back its history from the present to the early days of European settlement.

That, of course, is only a wafer-thin slice of this place; before then, stretching back tens of thousands of years, it was the country of the Ballardong Noongar people, a fertile, fecund land of bush and river flats, providing everything its inhabitants needed to live full, spiritually-charged and welcoming lives.

It underpins the hard story Isaacs and Michael tell – it’s that lost life that is the unquiet ghost that drifts through the trees like smoke from spectral campfires and rattles the windows of the old hospital with grievous memories.

The other unspoken but crystal-clear message of York is that, while the near-destruction of the lives and culture of this continent’s First Peoples is the stark and terrible result of often brutal and inhumane European colonization, no-one has been left undamaged by it. The colonial European world that was built here carries a persistent, angry flaw at its heart, an original sin that even 250 years hasn’t erased, making victims of its own as well as the “other”.

In York, we meet those victims, a slaughtered settler family and the Ballardong men falsely accused of their murder, a desperate family hoping to save the life of their boy and the stern matron who tries to help them, a young man driven mad by Europe’s wars and a committed Aboriginal lawyer driven crazy by an indifferent legal system stacked against her clients in the present day.

Before we meet them, though, we’re taken on a wild, zany ride through the old building, so out of character with both our expectations and what is to follow that it defies conventional theatrical logic.

It’s a classic horror-com, complete with things that go bang in the night, shrieking apparitions, Rooms That Must Not Be Entered, a ditzy neighbor who’ll only come to the house armed with a cricket bat, and then only during daylight hours.

In the middle of this mayhem comes a little scout troupe (Isaac Diamond, Ben Mortley, Jacob Narkle, Sophie Quinn and Elise Wilson) and their two Akelas (Jo Morris and Shakira Clanton) on a Foundation Day long weekend camp in 1985.

Young Michael (Mortley) relates a lurid story of a cannibal ghost told him by the old building’s janitor (Maitland Schnaars); a young Indigenous boy, Lewis (Narkle), conjurs up ghoulish monsters from his tradition. Blood streams from bannisters, ghostly hands encircle young necks –  it’s the whole shebang.

The whole affair is gleefully orchestrated by its directors Clare Watson and Ian Wilkes, the designer Zoe Atkinson (that set of hers is ALIVE!) and lighting and sound designers Lucy Birkenshaw and Clint Bracknell.

(I should say the fun and games were greatly enlivened by a hyperactive first night audience who found the whole thing genuinely hilarious and terrifying. Bless them – I wish every opening night mob were half as entertaining!).

There are intimations of the real-life horrors to come in the first act, although they might have been more direct and extended in the interests of the balance of the enterprise.

The mood of the first act is swept away after interval by the abject figure of a young man (Diamond), recently returned from the horrors of the WWI trenches, rocking in a chair, his mind in torment, his waking nightmares too hard for the matron, Roslyn Bell (Alison van Reeken) to relieve.

Another nightmare comes to the hospital – a young boy gravely ill with influenza (Narkle) from one of Chief Protector of Aborigines Neville’s Native Reserves, and his distraught parents (Clanton and Schnaars).

Duty and humanity overcome the matron’s fear and misgivings, and she treats the young boy despite the regulations forbidding it; her transgression is discovered, the price she pays is swift and brutal.

Finally, in 1839, a half-century before the hospital was built, a little family, Elijah and Sarah Cook and their infant daughter settled the same land. Sarah struck up friendships with the local Ballardong people, giving them water from the well, greeting their families as they passed through.

When the Cook’s homestead was razed to the ground, the bodies of Sarah and her child in the ruins, Inspector of Native Police Drummond fixed, by mere rumour and supposition (and despite any evidence to the contrary), on the guilt of two Noongar men, Doodjeep and Barrabong, who were hunted down, found guilty in a show trial in 1840 and hung in chains at the site of the crime as a “severe example” to the local Indigenous population.

This terrible story is told by the cast as a chorus front of stage, before York ends as it begins, with a married couple (Clanton and van Reeken) settling into the old building they plan to make their home.

And its past is theirs, to haunt them too.

There’s no denying the power of these stories, each based on fact, even if the structure of the play, and the changing moods and performance styles used to tell them can sit uncomfortably at times.

The younger actors, Jacob Narkle (he alternates with his brother Benjamin), Quinn, Wilson (whose intensity is weapons grade) and Isaacs are assured and convincing, and Mortley and Clanton bring poise and experience to their various roles. It’s a delight to see van Reeken and Morris, two of our very finest actors, working together in extended scenes.

Above all, York is a major career achievement for Maitland Schnaars. His presence, and his great, sombre, soul, fills the theatre when he conjures up the wronged ghosts of generations, while his comic touch in a couple of smaller roles is exquisite.

Schnaars has become an exceptional actor, and it’s a privilege to see him in a work that clearly means a great deal to him

As it should to us.