In 2015, while in rehearsals for the Shakespearean family tragedy, 'King Lear', Kalgoorlie-born actor Meyne Wyatt suffered his own personal heartbreak, the death of his father.
In the four years since his dad’s untimely passing, Meyne has been on a quest to make sense of his grief, and of his place as an Indigenous Australian in the entertainment industry. With his semi-autographical play, the Queensland Theatre and Griffith Theatre Company production 'City Of Gold', he will present the truth that he has found; a truth that may confront audiences, but also hopefully lead to connection.
For Meyne Wyatt, being cast as Edmund in the now infamous Sydney Theatre Company production of 'King Lear', starring Geoffrey Rush, should have been one of the highlights of an already burgeoning career; a career that had seen him land lead roles on Broadway in ‘Peter Pan’ and grace Australian TV screens during prime time on soap stalwart 'Neighbours'.
Just two weeks into rehearsals for the production, though, Meyne’s father succumbed to throat cancer. While the show still went on in accordance with his father’s dying wishes, and his performance received triumphant reviews, Meyne has since reflected on his decision to proceed with the role, as he explains.
“At the end of the day, it probably wasn’t the best thing for my mental health, I suppose, because I just said my lines, not out of not wanting to perform to the best of my ability, because I think I did at the time, but because I was feeling the depression of my grief, I suppose.”
By writing 'City Of Gold', with support from Playwriting Australia as part of its Muru Salon and National Script Workshop programmes, Meyne says he’s been able to process and begin to heal from the trauma of losing his father.
“It’s lifted a great weight of my shoulders. I feel like it’s a pivotal moment in my career that I’m doing one of my stories and I feel like people can connect with it as well because all of us will inevitably lose a parent, it’s an experience that everyone feels and can connect with.”
While parental loss is one key theme of the wryly funny work, 'City Of Gold' will also fearlessly present the reality of lived experience for young Indigenous Australians living in a time where football superstars, such as Adam Goodes, are subject to overt racial vilification in the media and at their place of work, and where too many First Nations’ people live and die in custody.
“I feel like for Indigenous people, people of colour, racism is a daily or weekly occurrence and you don’t necessarily pick up on everything, you pick your battles and put people on notice, but this play is trying, not in an overt way, to educate people.”
For Meyne, this play, which co-stars Matilda Award-winners Anthony Standish and Jeremy Ambrum and Logie winner Shari Sebbens, is also a chance for him to play a character that speaks with his voice, as he explains.
“A few years ago I began to realise that the work that I was auditioning for or going up for had started to be things that I’d already seen or things that I was questioning 'is that my voice', or had I seen anything that’s similar to how I think or how I feel. I thought that I probably hadn’t.”
“So when I started writing the play, to bring it together, I wanted to make sure that you’d hear something that’s the way that I speak or the way that people I know speak.”
'City Of Gold' plays Queensland Theatre's Bille Brown Theatre from 29 June-20 July and SBW Stables Theatre (Sydney) 26 July-31 August.