|Images from the National Theatre web site|
Set in the early nineteenth century, The Secret River tells the fairly simple, yet absorbing, story of the struggle by a family of downtrodden Londoners to build a new life in Australia. They stake a claim to a plot of prime riverside land that has long been the home of the local Dharug people. From here, the rollercoaster of hopes and fears is fairly predictable. But the play conveys a powerful message, as the tension ratchets up, and the family are forced to take sides in the struggle for supremacy between the motley collection of former convicts from Britain and their aboriginal hosts. With a large cast and live music, this Sydney Theatre Company production is a feast for both the eyes and ears. While the spacious stage is quite spartan, the dramatic lighting and the precise percussion conjure up the Australian outback. When the family start digging holes, the sound of spades scraping on hard ground rings out convincingly. The Brits' faces are painted white, as if to emphasise their alien status, while they routinely refer to the locals as "the blacks". In another era of mass migration, this depiction of the disorientation and distrust, that often accompany dislocation, rings true.