Leah Purcell’s stage adaptation of Henry Lawson’s short story of the same name is a harrowing insight into a sliver of Australian history that might have otherwise remained untold.
The Drover’s Wife tells the story of Molly, wife of a cattle drover and mother of many. It opens on her, heavily pregnant with gun in hand, wary of a potential threat in her yard. Where Lawson wrote a snake, here it is an injured Aboriginal man, Yadaka, with an iron collar around his neck.
Alone in this vast, volatile world with children to care for and a husband no where to be seen, Molly has worked hard to protect her family from danger. But something stops her from pulling the trigger on this man.
Purcell has drawn inspiration from a variety of places, and her play echoes moments from Lawson’s original story beautifully. She hasn’t been constrained by the original; rather, she’s taken it to another level to create a potent, albeit it sickening, piece of storytelling.
Director Letitia Cáceres heads a brilliant creative team. Set design by Stephen Curtis is minimal but evocative, allowing for Tess Schofield’s detailed costumes to shine. Sound design from The Sweats (Pete Goodwin) is exceptionally subtle and filled with constant foreboding.
In the titular role, Purcell is captivating. It’s a formidable performance. Mark Coles Smith as Yadaka brings a sensational depth and complexity to his role. He’s gentle and quietly charismatic. The unsung hero. As Molly’s eldest son Danny, Will McDonald is a wonderful flurry of boyish charm and innocence. He gives an insightful, heartbreaking performance. The first of many, hopefully.
Benedict Hardie and Tony Cogin play a range of revolting men who appear to lurk opportunistically on the outskirts of Molly’s world. They are thoroughly disturbing and unequivocally convincing.
To begin, the show seems stilted, with Purcell’s sing-song, story time voice jarring against the words Molly is speaking and the life she’s leading. About halfway through it hits its stride, although this might repair itself further into the run.
Purcell has written a rarely-seen Indigenous perspective on our history. She’s shining a spotlight on the heinous, horrific, brutal treatment of woman and Indigenous people at the hands of white men. “Bury that collar deep,” Molly says to Yadaka. A poignant comment on how we as a nation have dealt with crimes of our past.
This new realisation of The Drover’s Wife is unbelievably bleak and almost impossible to watch. But if you can stomach it, go. It’s an important piece of Australian theatre that demands to be seen.
Playing at Belvoir Street Theatre until October 16.
Alana Kaye – Theatre Now
17 Sep – 16 Oct 2016
Wednesday to Friday 8pm
Saturday 2pm & 8pm
8pm, 17 September
6.30pm, 18 September
8pm, 20 September
Opening night (invitation only)
8pm, 21 September