Reviews, Stage, Theatre

Stolen review (Riverside Theatres, Parramatta)

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Jane Harrison’s Stolen premiered in Melbourne in 1998, the year after the release of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s Bringing them Home report, which brought the truth of the forced removal of indigenous children from their families under the national spotlight.

Of course, the stories of the Stolen Generation were already being told and were widely known, but Bringing them Home drew these stories together into a more complete portrait of the systems that tore thousands of Aboriginal families apart.

Harrison’s Stolen tells the story of five children who were taken from their families: Shirley (Henrietta Baird), Ann (Matilda Brown), Jimmy (Matthew Cooper), Ruby (Berthalia Selina Reuben) and Sandy (Kerri Simpson). While they exist in different times and different places, they interact with each other like the best of friends.

Director Vicki Van Hout’s background in dance comes through strongly in this inventive and very physical production. It exists in a surreal landscape — complete with a beautiful yarn-bombed tree — and is seen largely through the eyes of Ruby, a young girl who is abused to the point that she begins to have hallucinations.

The performances are all very affecting and often quite funny. Kerri Simpson performs his monologue about the can of peas which destroyed his family brilliantly, while Berthalia Selina Reuben is heart-breaking as the young girl Ruby.

The set is covered in pieces of scrap cardboard, which the cast use to conjure up the various worlds of the play. At one point, an actor is covered head to toe in cardboard and speaks from underneath it.

There are some scenes in which Van Hout’s directorial hand seems a little heavy, and pulls focus from the text (not helped by some projection issues from the cast) making the narratives a little hazy, but her choices are exciting, dynamic and often enlightening.

The scene in which Ann, a woman adopted by a respectable white, middle-class family, meets her family for the first time is brilliantly directed as fragments of conversations and thoughts linger in the air, repeating over and over. It’s one of the quietest and most affecting scenes in this production.

Stolen has, over the last 18 years, become a modern classic, and this new production offers a slightly different spin on the text. And it’s entirely appropriate that it’s created for the new National Theatre of Parramatta, where the country’s first “native institution” was established just over two centuries ago to “civilise” Aboriginal people.

The play is at once a chance to reflect on the tragedies of our recent past and a celebration of the endurance of Aboriginal people and their diverse cultures.

[box]Stolen is at the Riverside Theatres, Parramatta until June 17.

Featured image by Amanda James[/box]

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