It feels rare these days that we come across a simple but gripping Australian story. So often, showy staging or radical adaptations distract us from the story at hand. And while Brothers Wreck’s set is towering and startling, it is a solid, interesting and straightforward story that captures a young man in a pit of despair, and his family who are trying to pull him out.
Set in Darwin, an Indigenous family are coming to terms with a tragedy that has shook their core. Each character is filled with loss and longing, but it is Ruben who is most openly struggling. The heat and rain is oppressive, but it is grief that is threatening to pull him under, and Dion Williams evokes this young man’s pain with strength and nuance. Around him, his sister Adele (Leonie Whyman) and her boyfriend Jarrod (Nelson Baker), struggle to hold him. Whyman and Baker have a complex but loving energy, combining intimacy and cheek to portray a couple supporting each other fiercely through hardship. Lisa Flanagan gives a beautifully touching performance as Ruben’s auntie Petra, who swoops in to help buoy the family (and do some laundry). Finally, Trevor Jamieson portrays Ruben’s counsellor with all the desperation, frustration and kindness one would expect from a professional put face-to-face with an angry young man on parole.
Dale Ferguson’s towering set is impressive, with fly-screen doors opening out from every direction, however at times it undermines the intimacy at the heart of the play, and does not seem to fit the Merlyn’s cavernous theatre particularly well. Still, the rain pouring down and the constant slamming of the doors evokes Australia as wonderfully as anything, and its oppression and expanse affects both cast and audience.
Beneath the family story of Brothers Wreck, Alberts has crafted a narrative that makes white Australian audience’s consider their gaze upon Indigenous Australia. Within Ruben’s story is a consideration of the current political situation in the Northern Territory. But some of the laughter in the Malthouse audience during opening night felt at and not with these characters. Perhaps it was racism, perhaps just classism, but as beautifully as Alberts evokes her characters and their story, and as skillfully as they are performed by the cast, there is still a discomfort from (mostly) white Australian audiences at seeing the stories and bodies of Indigenous Australia onstage.
Brothers Wreck is an accomplished and touching piece of theatre that paces along with a lovely energy from both the cast and the writing, and something to tug on the heart of every audience member.
Images: Tim Grey