THE SECRET River is an intense, gritty show that does not stray from the dark history of early colonisation. [star rating =5/5]
Andrew Bovell adapted The Secret River based on Kate Grenville’s bestselling novel that explored a forgotten and little discussed part of Australian history.
Set at the start of the 19thCentury, William Thornhill played by the wonderful NATHANIEL DEAN, never owned anything in his life and was desperate to take the own his own piece of land.
Thornhill spots 100 acres of land running along the Hawkesbury River, where he persuades his wife to settle down and they encounter the Dharug family who already live there.
Dean gives a brilliant physical performance as a nervy William Thornhill – a misguided, desperate but decent man who believes in his newfound entitlement after being pardoned.
We crave to see more of the Dharug family as they have so little time on stage. But, this also makes it difficult for us not to route for Thornhill by the end.
The scenes of the two family’s children playing together is a wonderful piece of symbolism that is a joy to watch but also makes the final scenes of the play even more crushing.
The encounters with the tribe are at first alarming, amusing and then charming before it escalates out of control.
Thornhill and his family are isolated as they are unable to communicate with the natives but desperately try to resolve the matter without violence.
Underscoring the play is a haunting score performed by Isaac Hayward, which is important to the dramatisation but possesses a very film like quality. London Bridge is at first used as a song to soothe the settlers but is later used as a war chant.
The narrator acts as a bridge between both worlds helping illuminate the audience at certain stages. Dhirrumbin played by NINGALI LAWFORD-WOLF, is the Dharug name for the Hawkesbury River.
She delivers the story in a soothing, dreamy yet prophetic way. She is omnipresent like the river as she skirts around the stage and is a witness to this tragedy leaving her the task to re-tell the tragedy.
However, Lawford-Wolf does occasionally stumble over the poetic script, but it does not take away the shock of what is going to happen or lessen the blow.
While, Sal Thornhill (GEORGIA ADAMSON) his wife acts as William’s conscience as she supports him through every decision he makes guiding him until the end where she finally turns to silence after the atrocity he committed in her name.
The colonial’s savage side has been encapsulated in the character ‘Smasher’ Sullivan (JEREMY SIMS), a ragged hair man with dirty clothes with a thirst for blood.
The play, directed by Neil Armfield, tackles the issues of the atrocities committed by early colonialists. Bovell adapted the story with no real heroes or villains just two families wanting to live their life on their land through the eyes of Thornhill.
But, like, Thornhill and his family, members of the audience who are not native of the Dharug language are left feeling alienated, which allows us to understand the decisions he made – making us more aware of our shocking history.
Bovell and Armfield have made a small family story and projected it onto a global scale.