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The Secret River - Sydney Festival

The Secret River
Jan 22nd 2013 | Dave Drayton
Adapted from Kate Grenville's novel by Andrew Bovell, The Secret River examines the early stages of contact between British convicts and settlers and indigenous Australians around the Hawkesbury River. It is our history, and a tragedy, and it plays out at the base of an enormous ghostly gum that reaches up beyond our sight.

Unlike Grenville's novel, which focuses on the Thornhill family, particularly the patriarch William (Nathaniel Dean) in which the aboriginal people are voiceless, this production gives voice to the Darug people on stage. They speak in their native tongue, sans-subtitles, and we are placed in the curiously insightful position of being allowed to decipher meaning, or attempt to do so.

The hybridity in perspectives and storytelling techniques remains diplomatic (but far from tokenistic) as classic British songs and dangerous pub-spun yarns work alongside corroboree and tales told with lines drawn by charcoal-tipped sticks.

We know how this story ends, like so many others, but Neil Armfield's directorial vision ensures we get there with a new understanding of its lasting impact and importance. In the end, the convict 'come good' Thornhill stands in an ill-fitting sports jacket, the shoulders hanging off his own; as big as the lies he's telling himself.

Sydney Theatre: Walsh Bay, Sydney Festival, to Saturday 9 February

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