Larrakia woman and award-winning playwright Jada Alberts is young but her writing is so well-developed even at such an early stage in her career. Alberts certainly doesn’t resile from tackling the big issues; her play focusses on youth suicide, in all but the most graphic way.
In fact it opens the play. Ruben (Hunter Page-Lochard) is about to become an angry young man but when we meet him he’s paralysed: silent; motionless; clinging with both hands to a railing of the stairs at the house he lives with his sister (Adele, played by Rarriwuy Hick) and his chronically unwell mother. Adele saunters down the steps wondering why her brother is acting weird. Until she steps into the laundry. Then all hell breaks loose.
She screams for her boyfriend, Jarrod (Bjorn Stewart). Joe has taken his own life, stringing himself up with fishing net his best mate, Ruben, bought. It’s the most intense scene in the entire play and promises to keep us on tenterhooks for the duration. The promise unfortunately isn’t realised. What emerges isn’t so much a play exposing the horrors of suicide, but a forensically affirmative examination of family. And that’s good enough but it means Brothers Wreck falls well short of being a truly great play.
Leah Purcell directs and her vision has been realised evocatively by designer Dale Ferguson who has created the underbelly of an old-school Darwin house (on stilts). The irony, tragedy and beauty of this work is that death, that most fundamental of all the facts of life, brings the family in question by a circuitous and traumatic route back together.
Family is demonstrated to be at the core of community and proves to be each member’s salvation. Where the location of the action comes into its own is in the classic sense: the climate is tropical, which means oppressively hot and humid, escalating pre-existing tensions to an explosive level. All await the tempest which will break the cycle in the most merciless, devastating way. It’s nothing if not Shakespearean.
Despite the best efforts of all involved I didn’t feel the unbearable tension. Despite the fact Alberts’ own family and community has been touched, if not wracked, by suicide and the suicide rate in the Northern Territory is three-and-a-half times the national average, I can’t say there was a point at which the searing intensity of such loss was palpably communicated, nor the conflicting cobweb of attendant emotions elucidated.
Hick has made something of a specialty of headstrong young women of late (she is Leccy in the ABC’s The Gods Of Wheat Street) and Adele is of a similarly courageous disposition. She’s the glue that holds the family together, balancing concern with cajoling in dealing with both Ruben and Jarrod. In the background is parole officer and counselor David, played by Nauruan-born Cramer Cain, who communicates the detached rationality and cultivated calm that’s particular to health workers employed by bureaucracies. Somehow, though, when David does show himself, it’s not quite convincing.
Nor was I completely persuaded by Jarrod’s lumbering teddy bear affectation which meant the dramatic tension for me relied on Ruben’s angst-turned-outward, Adele’s wrestle between vulnerability and responsibility and Petra (Lisa Flanagan), the aunty-come-lately saviour, who shows the girder-like strength, compassion and authority they all need at that moment. Brothers Wreck is a heartwarming play. But I was expecting something deeper, darker and tougher.