The death of two-month-old Azaria Chamberlain marked the beginning of one of the most shameful chapters in Australia’s modern history, exposing an alarmingly-flawed justice system and a deeply troubling social response. Charged with her daughter’s murder, Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton’s subsequent trial saw her convicted of murder based on unscientific evidence (including ‘blood’ that was eventually determined to be paint emulsion) and sentenced to life imprisonment. A story that completely polarised the nation, Chamberlain-Creighton waited 32 years for the Northern Territory coroner, at the conclusion of the fourth coronial inquest into Azaria’s disappearance, to find that the infant died as a result of being taken by a dingo.
Award-winning Australian playwright Alana Valentine (whose two most recent works, The Sugar House and Barbara and the Camp Dogs, have premiered to much acclaim at Belvoir) is the author of Letters To Lindy, a production that examines the country’s enduring fascination with Chamberlain-Creighton. Commissioned by Merrigong Theatre Company in 2014, the piece had its world premiere in Wollongong in July, 2016 and that world premiere production is now mid-way through a national tour. It recently arrived at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres for a limited run.
Directed by Darren Yap, Letters To Lindy tells Chamberlain-Creighton’s story by focusing, in large part, on the more than 20,000 letters she received over three decades – from the time of Azaria’s death to the 2012 NT coroner’s report. The letters were written by sympathisers and critics alike, some shattering, some concerned with the prosaic and all highlighting the wide spectrum of responses to these events. All of that correspondence was gifted by Chamberlain-Creighton to the National Library of Australia.
Over 130 minutes, Lindy (played by Jeanette Cronin) tells her story to the audience, with Glenn Hazeldine, Phillip Hinton and Jane Phegan each assuming a raft of guises, including some of those close to her and some of those she came to know only through these letters. Performed excerpts of the letters allow us to hear from those who judged Lindy based on her practise of the Seventh Day Adventist faith, those who had experienced a loss of their own and felt some sort of connection to her as a result, and those who didn’t believe her reaction to her daughter’s death was consistent with the behaviour of an innocent woman.
It all makes for compelling theatre and provokes reflection on how the NT justice system – and the wider Australian community – were participants in the events that transpired over three decades. As Lindy, Cronin is disarming as she frankly recalls events in detail from a painful extended saga. The raw emotion we see from her as the show arrives at its climax (ironically, emotion the public expected to see from Camberlain-Creighton after Azaria’s death) reminds of the fundamental tragedy at the centre of it all – a mother having lost her infant child. Hazeldine, Hinton and Phegan are all strong supporting players, stirring the ghosts of the past.
That said, moments when the supporting cast join to form something of a Greek chorus to speak rhyming verse and a musical number that opens the second act don’t hit the mark. Similarly, there are moments where dialogue could arguably be sparer. Throughout the play, there are times where a less is more approach would make for more muscular storytelling, particularly given that Lindy herself is such a large and animated character.
In terms of the physical production, James Browne’s set, comprising ‘Lindy’s’ home, is a fitting backdrop for this piece, while his costuming choices show deference to the 1980s and Lindy’s recognisable style when key events occurred. Yap ensures performers make good use of the entire space throughout.
Ultimately, Letters To Lindy conjures a time in our living memory that we should never forget – a time when a woman was not given the presumption of innocence endowed by law. It examines the best and the worst of human behaviour in those circumstances and serves as an example of how completely prejudice can obscure fact. For the important lessons it offers alone, Letters To Lindy is worth the ticket.
LETTERS TO LINDY – TOUR DETAILS
|Burrinja Cultural Centre, Dandenong Ranges||24 July, 2018||Book online HERE|
|Gasworks Arts Park, Albert Park||26 – 28 July, 2018||Book online HERE|
|Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane, QLD||1 – 4August, 2018||Book online HERE|
|Empire Theatre, Toowoomba, QLD||7 August, 2018||Book online HERE|
|The Cell, Captain Cook Community Centre, Gove, NT (Play reading)||11 August, 2018||Book online HERE|
|The Playhouse, Darwin Entertainment Centre, Darwin, NT||14 – 15 August, 2018||Book online HERE|
|Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts and Cultural Centre, Katherine, NT||18 August, 2018||Book online HERE|
|Barkly Regional Arts, Tennant Creek, NT|
|22 August, 2018|
|Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs, NT||24 August, 2018||Book online HERE|
|NEW SOUTH WALES|
|Glen Street Theatre, Belrose, NSW||29 August – 2 September, 2018||Book online HERE|