Opening this month at the Malthouse, Brothers Wreck earned playwright Jada Alberts a nomination in the 2015 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards – Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting. Featuring an all-star Indigenous cast, the play draws on the rich traditions of the past, to tell a deeply current story of the reality of life for many Indigenous families.

Actor Dion Williams was born in Townsville, but spent most of his youth in country Echuca. He is extremely proud of his Indigenous heritage (his parents are representatives of  the Waradjuri and Wakaman tribes). First discovered at 15, Williams has eked out an impressive CV in an equally impressive time-frame. His work includes: Angry Boys, The Time of Our Lives, Redfern Now, Gallipoli and, as a complete twist, a gig on Deadly Funny – a national search for Australia’s funniest Indigenous talent.

Williams’ journey into acting did not take the usual route. It was, in fact, his father who responded to an email he received as the chairman of the Njernda Aboriginal Corporation. The ABC was looking to audition Indigenous boys for a new series from Summer Heights High creator Chris Lilley. The rest, as they say, is history!

This play is about love, hope, despair, loss and forgiveness during a horrendous time in the life of a grief-stricken family. Williams plays main character Ruben who has been deeply affected by the suicide of his cousin, Joey. A once outgoing young man, Ruben regresses and begins a downward spiral into alcohol and violent behaviour. Suicide, and the helplessness of its aftermath, a very large thread weaving through the fabric of Alberts’ play.

Brother's Wreck - c Tim Grey 189

“It’s a story that will help open people’s eyes to the fact that they aren’t alone. Also that suicide happens to everyone else, not just the person who takes their own life,” says Williams.

Brothers Wreck made its debut in 2014, and four years on it still resonates. Based on playwright Alberts’ own experience of losing a family member to suicide, it delves head on into the very real danger of suicide contagion as well as addressing the high statistics of suicide affected families in Indigenous communities. A staggering 95% of Aboriginal people are affected by suicide with the suicide rate for Aboriginal males much higher than that of their non Aboriginal counter parts.

Williams describes his conflicted character as confident: “Even though he is an arsehole, he is still confident in himself.”  A trait Williams admires. In fact, it is these dominant  or problematic characters that excite him the most as an actor exploring a role. “There’s so much to learn,” he says.

The play is dark but also humorous as Alberts writes about the community she knows so well and the people that inhabit it. Alberts also directs and, for Williams, this is a positive as his preference for a director is one who is very hands on and supportive.

Brothers Wreck is ultimately a tale of hope celebrating life. It also offers deep insights into a sometimes fragile community. As Williams puts it: “This play will leave you with a sense of closure.”

June 8 – 23

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Images: Tim Grey