Seven Aboriginal leaders discuss the arrival of the First Fleet, debating whether the unexpected visitors are friends or foes.
‘We don’t owe them anything.’
‘They’re not people we want to associate with.’
‘Keep them out.’
These are phrases that can be linked to a variety of current affairs that consistently appear in our media landscape, but rarely would they be considered phrases that may have been thrown about during the establishment of modern Australia. The characters in Jane Harrison’s The Visitors use these phrases to describe the intruders who are floating closer and closer toward their land and their home, and it is up to them to decide whether they wish to let these foreigners in.
An original interpretation of the story of this country’s historical beginnings, The Visitors focuses on seven Aboriginal leaders discussing the arrival of the First Fleet, and debating whether the unexpected visitors are friends or untrustworthy foes. All wearing smart business attire, these men express their educated opinions boldly and passionately, and are torn between wanting to protect their families and their land, and wanting to learn more about the strangers that loom on the horizon. Harrison has created some interesting concepts in this script, as the story attempts to adjust the way we understand the history of what took place over 200 years ago.
The Visitors works well as a rehearsed reading, as it is the words of the script that form the crux of the proposed production, more so than what we see played out on stage. The strong social commentary that weaves through the text is powerfully dynamic, and although the premise of the story is of a serious nature, the ongoing humour inserted throughout makes for an intricate and entertaining piece of theatre. The men have an innocence about them that is portrayed perfectly; their naivety about stealing, drinking and cigarettes is expected, but it is also rather remarkable to watch as educated men in suits attempt to grasp the reasoning behind aspects of the modern world that are generally common or socially accepted. At times the commentary was a little repetitive, and the script was very close to becoming uncomfortably long, however as a play reading this is certainly forgivable.
Although the performers had scripts in-hand, their acting was seamless and their portrayal of the seven Elders was a delight to watch. Lawrence, the youngest Elder (Sermsah Bin Saad), was a compelling and energetic storyteller, and Gordon (Glenn Shea) was consistently entertaining with his larger-than-life opinions and stubborn, bossy attitude. Special mention also to Kamahi Djordon King, whose comical portrayal of Jacob produced most of the audience laughter throughout the reading.
The Visitors is a thought-provoking interpretation of the story of Australian colonisation, and successfully combines the serious historical elements of that story with a refreshingly light-hearted tone. This semi-staged reading shows that the script has some real potential as a fully-fledged stage production, and after some further development and a longer rehearsal process, it could prove to be a truly pivotal piece of theatre within the Indigenous arts sphere.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Written by Jane Harrison
Directed by Leah Purcell
Cast: Sermsah Bin Saad, Kamahi Djordon King, Greg Fryer, James Henry, Glenn Maynard, Leroy Parsons, Glenn Shea
Melbourne Theatre Company, Southbank
Melbourne Indigenous Arts Festival