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26.10.2014
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AFTER considering thousands of actors to fill Harrison Ford’s shoes in a new Star Wars movie, the part of Han Solo has finally been cast. KRISTEN Stewart may have just split from girlfriend, Soko, however is she moving on already with a Victoria’s Secret model who dated Miley Cyrus? IT’S not easy being Zac Efron, constantly being cast in shirtless roles and never eating carbs. ARSENIO Hall is suing Sinead O’Connor over a Facebook post in which the singer accused him of furnishing Prince with drugs. IT swept through the critics' hearts and now The Secret River is flooding this year's Helpmann Awards.
THE 80s, 90s and noughties were an unkind time to walk the Logies red carpet, but some of these outfits are truly unforgivable. A NOTE ABOUT RELEVANT ADVERTISING: We collect information about the content (including ads) you use across this site and use it to make both advertising and content more relevant to you on our network and other sites. The Secret River was, to begin with, the irresistibly intriguing title of Kate Grenville’s 2005 work of historical fiction, the story of a convict-made-good, a man who, after toil and trouble, rose to become a respected member of the infamous squattocracy. Andrew Bovell has adapted the novel for a production directed by Neil Armfield, with a cast headed by Nathaniel Dean. The scale of the production is massive; unequalled, thus far, by anything locally-sourced during the Upton-Blanchett years. The novel is known for the thoroughness of its evocation and this hasn’t been lost on Bovell, or Armfield. Speaking of idealisation, Roy Gordon is Yalamundi, the very picture of a wise, heroic, patient and stoic tribal elder. The cast and crew are so large, it’s hard to do everyone justice, or even give due credit (not least because quite a number of actors play multiple characters). Tying all the narrative threads together (speaking of August: Osage County, not in an entirely dissimilar way) is Ursula Yovich.
Upton, dramaturg Matthew Whittet, Bovell and Armfield have banged heads and banged out a winner. There are powerful devices that point to the yawning dissonance between black and white, such as the nursery rhymes and songs (London Bridge) the newbies chorus around the camp fire, which sound strange and foreign, even to my ears, now.
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Crikey is an independent news website featuring commentary on politics, media, business, culture and technology. In the last scene of Act 1 of Sydney Theatre Company's The Secret River, the freed English convict William Thornhill sits with his family and white settler acquaintances on the banks of the Hawkesbury River, solemnly gazing into the distant wilderness as they sing, with ambivalent nostalgia, a folk song from their native England. This portrayal of the perspectives of both Thornhill (and through him, the English settlers), as well as the Dharug people, is perhaps the most apparent change that writer Andrew Bovell (When the Rain Stops Falling, Speaking in Tongues) and director Neil Armfield (Summer of the Seventeenth Doll) made when adapting Kate Grenville's 2005 award-winning work of historical fiction.
Indeed, Armfield and Bovell have explored the narrative scope of the theatrical form to a degree that is not commonly possible. Thornhill is already aware of the 'natives' in the area, but seeks to assuage Sal's fear by explaining that they are an explorative, nomadic people who will 'move on' soon enough.
Productions of such a scale, such ambition, and such great talent as The Secret River are rarely undertaken. Hostess Melina Fahrenheit led the local burlesque community in a rousing celebration of love, devotion and tenderness just in time for Valentine’s Day. Audience participation was the name of the game and the audience was enthusiastic – cheering, wolf-whistling and cat-calling all encouraged.
In the spirit of audience participation, Ms Seker Pare performed a balloon-popping number with supreme sauciness and confidence, encouraging the front tables to grab at her goodies, and Ms Tiffany Blue whipped the audience into a frenzy with a delightful, high-energy striptease.
The whole thing ran a little late for a Monday and the breaks between the sets were at times extensive, but as a showcase of local talent, a celebration of the raunchier side of St Valentine, and a chance to shout dreadful things at ladies on stage without being kicked out, it’s not to be missed.
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Win a double pass to Barbara Blackman's Festival Blessing (Canberra International Music Festival)! Nathaniel Dean is fine as the confused and compromised Thornhill who knows nothing about farming. The gang of lawless and generally obnoxious white settlers who squat along the river are robustly played by Daniel Henshall, Jeremy Sims, Bruce Spence and Matthew Sunderland. To keep up with the latest news and reviews at Stage Whispers, click here to like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter. In 1806 William Thornhill, an illiterate English bargeman and a man of quick temper but deep compassion, steals a load of wood and, as a part of his lenient sentence, is deported, along with his beloved wife, Sal, to the New South Wales colony in what would become Australia.
Kate Grenville's 2005 novel on Australian race relations is even more alive on the Sydney Theatre stage. I suppose, if we whitefellas were able to look at it through indigenous eyes, we might come to realise we’re all members of an ongoing squattocracy, having invaded and appropriated (to state it with the euphemistic politeness we seem to prefer) the land of others.
This, despite the fact he turns a blind eye to the brutal enslavement and repeated rape of a young Aboriginal woman (played courageously, and chillingly, by a naked Miranda Tapsell, corralled by a rope ’round her neck). The only work rivalling it for sheer, breathtaking magnitude of vision is, or was, August: Osage County. Colonisation was a systematic process of brutalisation which, first and foremost, required seeing Aboriginal people as less than people.
In fact, Grenville originally embarked on a work of non-fiction, but along the road, decided to generalise Wiseman’s story.
Of course, some sacrifices have had to be made but, on the whole, all the important boxes are ticked, dramatically and historically. Despite his suspicion of the natives and their ways, Thornhill is too preoccupied to prevent his sensitive younger son Dick (10-year-old Rory Potter, who was so charismatic in Medea, not so very long ago, at Belvoir) from making friends with Narabi (James Slee) and, especially, Garraway (Bailey Doomadgee). He remains steadfastly fearless in the face of hysterical outbursts and opportunistic putdowns from the graceless settlers.
Suffice to say, one and all do justice to their roles, including Daniel Henshall, as Dan Oldfield, an old mate of Thornhill’s, who must now endure the ignominy of working for him. One can hardly imagine how alien they must’ve sounded to the Dharug whose land and culture was being pulled from under them. As they sit, the Dharug Aboriginal people, on whose land they have chosen to settle, enter the stage as a group and walk slowly around them, themselves singing their own sombre folk song, equally as oblivious of the Thornhill as he is of them. The production was the first to be commissioned by Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton upon their taking up the post of co-artistic directors at STC, and has been the company's largest and most ambitious project during their tenure. At their disposal was a creative team which included, among a large host of others, Artistic Associate Stephen Page (current Artistic Director of Bangarra Dance Theatre), Set Designer Stephen Curtis, and music director Iain Grandage, together with a 19-strong cast including Nathaniel Dean, Anita Hegh, Ursula Yovich (Australia, The Sapphires), Daniel Henshall (Snowtown), Trevor Jamieson, (Namitjira, Ngaparti-ngaparti), Judith McGrath (All Saints), Colin Moody, and Bruce Spence.
Even the fidgety, anxious Sal befriends two of the Dharug women – played mischievously and entertainingly by Miranda Tapsell and Ethel-Anne Gundy. The audience is transported to and immersed in a Hawkesbury which is truly on the frontier. Ms Fahrenheit tottered about the stage in a gravity-defying corset, heckling the performers, harassing the stage kittens, nicking bubbly off the raffle winners and reading out progressively filthier declarations of love, lust and indifference from the delighted audience members. The coy Shark Bait and Miss Coco Lox kicked off the evening with an act set to Tainted Love, followed by Absalon Lacroix’s juggling act, which got even better when he got into the spirit of things and took his shirt off. After Scarlett and the Wolf treated us to a Red Riding Hood-themed song, event organiser Ivy Ambrosia rounded out the set with a fan dance.
Certainly the packed and influential audience had no doubts by the end: they rose to their feet and cheered and cheered. Bovell’s play expands the focus to more equally include the aboriginal family whose way of life is immediately threatened.
The Secret River is the tale of William and Sal’s deep love for their small, exotic corner of the new world, and William’s gradual realization that if he wants to make a home for his family, he must forcibly take the land from the people who came before him.
This view, widely promulgated and practiced, enabled traded flour to be laced with strychnine, for example. These three are very much at the beating heart of the play, for its the kids, free of the baggage that stems from fear of the other, that can (but, regrettably, don’t) teach their elders a thing or two.


Of course, this doesn’t make his life easy, particularly with the likes of Smasher lurking, ever-ready to undermine, white-ant, backstab and bludgeon. It is the most gripping, most powerful scene of the production, portraying with such great simplicity the tragic confrontation that will inevitably befall Thornhill's group and the Dharug people: two communities, two cultures, and two histories, all of which reflect so many shared values but which, although briefly acknowledged, are ultimately overpowered by fear, ignorance, and irreconcilable principles of land ownership.
Both believed Grenville's exploration of race relations between English settlers (mainly ex-convicts) and the Aboriginal people of the Hawkesbury River in the early 19th century was an important and compelling story to be adapted for theatre. Unfortunately, Thornhill also appreciates their shared sense of belonging to a piece of land. The Merry Macgregor Sisters did some genuinely impressive synchronised tassel twirling and Sapphire reprised her cheeky mermaid-themed number from Kitten of the Year, doing unspeakable things to a pearl. Though there is never doubt about which tribe, black or white, will be the winners of this clash of civilisations, director Armfield brings theatrical fluidity and some bitterly moving images on Stephen Curtis’s soaring cliffside setting. Anita Hegh’s London accent perfectly underlines how much she misses her faraway homeland, just as her family prepares to seize the homeland of the local aboriginals.
Acclaimed around the world, The Secret River is a magnificent, transporting work of historical fiction. Bovell, Armfield, and artistic associate Stephen Page, have broadened the perspective of the book, such that we might see things through Dharug eyes, as well as the pardoned convict William Thornhill’s. Centre stage is a the monolithic trunk of a gum; a visionary inclusion by set designer Stephen Curtis, since it embodies the grandeur of the country, majesty of indigenous culture and size of the threat to such. Miranda Tapsell (Gillyagan) shares in this mirth and mayhem and, again, language is no barrier to understanding. Rhimi Johnson Page and Trevor Jamieson (who was so engaging in Namatjira, again at Belvoir) deliver upright, forthright and dignified roles as Wangarra and Ngalamalum. But The Secret River extends a hand not unfurled since the bridge walk that inspired Grenville’s reflection on her own ignorance, which predicated her authorship of this, one of the best books in the pantheon of Australian literature.
Yet to tell story only from Thornhill's perspective (as Grenville's novel does) would be, in Upton's words, 'a waste of the broader narrative scope of the theatrical form'.
As it becomes apparent that neither side has any intention of 'moving on', he and the other settlers face the realisation that things cannot continue as they are. The result is something much more thoughtful, sophisticated and sympathetic than mere political correctness would yield. It serves also to point to the multi-millennial tenure of Aboriginal people and the sturdiness of their roots in the land.
It’s a moment of idealised childhood that everyone present is anxious to embrace and celebrate, so the scene plays rather longer than one might expect. Meanwhile, Jeremy Sims (whom I didn’t recognise) outdoes himself as Smasher Sullivan, a man who is almost evil incarnate, with few, if any, redeeming characteristics. Jamieson is also a significant contributor to the live, onstage music, chiefly rendered and composed by Iain Grandage.
Matthew Sunderland is especially characterful as Saggitty, one of Sullivan’s reluctant but, nonetheless, willing coterie. No one, black or white, is portrayed as an outright saint or demon (although Sullivan and his nightmarish Jungian canines come perilously close).
Thornhill’s stubborn, heels-dug-in stance is understandable given, having come from abject poverty, he sees his one chance at making good and seizes the day.
Bruce Spence, whose range seems to keep expanding, is one of three veritable teufelhunden; belonging to the devil himself, Sullivan.
More substantially, Spence is Loveday, who sees himself as something of a man of letters (and is the only one among the settlers who can read), but is more akin to Frank, the tedious (if loveable) pedant in The Vicar Of Dibley.



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