When Artistic Director Clare Watson sat down to plan to her first commission for Black Swan State Theatre Company with playwright Jane Bodie two and a half years ago, little did they know it would end up being staged during a federal election campaign.
Timely as the work’s themes are regardless, the makers couldn’t have asked for more perfect timing.
Humanity’s environmental impact, the world’s finite resources and issues of race, immigration and discrimination all come to the fore in Black Swan’s latest production, 'Water', skilfully directed by seasoned WA theatremaker Emily McLean.
Opening on two open-plan, sparsely furnished rooms, the adept lighting design of Lucy Birkinshaw and atmospheric soundscape by musician Dr Clint Bracknell transport us to an island location.
With some clever, economical scene changes, Fiona Bruce’s well-crafted, minimalist wooden set becomes a Nedlands family’s modern holiday home, a detention facility, and modest 1900s farmhouse over the course of three acts.
Much loved and awarded Perth theatre veteran Igor Sas appears first. From start to finish, Sas perfectly conveys a once powerful figure who’s become a shadow of his former self, a man for whom the pressures of party politics and burden of carrying out unpopular policies in the name of ‘doing his job’ have taken their toll.
Enter the politician’s wife played by Glenda Linscott whose nervous energy is contrasted with the perfectly cast Amy Mathews as their uptight city lawyer daughter, who only tells us what she really thinks after a few Pinot Gris.
Image © Daniel J Grant
Emily Rose Brennan’s company debut is as the second and ‘favourite’ daughter, the principled black sheep who takes a stand against her father ‘the establishment’, as an environmental activist and asylum seeker advocate.
Gathering for their father’s birthday, the long-absent politician’s daughter brings an unexpected guest home. Richard Maganga gives a standout performance as an orphaned refugee immigrant in act one and as a sugarcane worker in act two when we’re transported to early 1900s Australia for a contrasting picture of how race relations and attitudes towards immigration have changed. And how they haven’t.
For the left-leaning, there are few surprises in the fly-on-the-wall perspective we’re given of today’s upper middle class, only disappointment that in the not too distant future where this family drama takes place, society’s leaders have failed to heed the environmental warnings of now and countless native species are no longer.
Act two is when we’re all confronted with our prejudices and preconceived notions of what terms like asylum, refugee, safe passage, detention and deportation mean first-hand, with Bodie placing the shoe firmly on the other foot.
“All we’re asking for is to live a life! Why would anyone deny us that?”, the middle-aged Australian migrant says to the young African American border protection officer at Ellis Island after fleeing a drought-ravaged Australia in 1920.
With any luck, audiences seeing themselves in this production may question their viewpoints on the issues Bodie raises and conclude what a large portion of us did long ago: as global citizens it’s time we all acknowledge our responsibility to be better and do better for our planet and its people. All people.
'Water' plays until 26 May at the State Theatre Centre of WA.