Directed by Charles Sanders
Lambert House Enterprises
Old 505 Theatre
5 Eliza Street, Newtown
Season: 8 – 19 November
Flood, written by Chris Isaacs, is a play about a group of friends who go on a camping trip and end up becoming perpetrators of tragic circumstances. Implicated in the plot is the ignorance and guilt bound up in the relationship between non-indigenous and indigenous Australians - but this isn’t really in centre-focus. Both Isaacs and director Charles Sanders have expressed the intention for the play to focus on the experience that they can understand and express as white Australians, tempered by limited contact with, and understanding of indigenous peoples and their culture. Hence, the play does not feature indigenous actors. This is a worthy perspective to bring to the stage and one that should be given consideration in order to properly confront the bitter ignorance that continues to permeate non-indigenous Australians’ understanding of indigenous peoples and their culture.
While the production has a worthy aim and features some strong performances, I think the perspective could be explored in a more insightful way if the given circumstances of the play were more realistic. I’ll refrain from giving away plot detail for the fear of spoiling the show for viewers, but it didn’t ever quite strike me as wholly believable. Once the show passes its climactic point of no return I found myself wondering, why are we watching this? I felt detached from the world on stage and wasn’t privy to the high-stakes tension shared by the characters. To me, when prejudice, discrimination and injustice towards indigenous peoples is so prevalent in everyday life, alongside the ignorance of non-indigenous Australians, I don’t understand why we need this contrived circumstance to have a conversation about it.
A feeling of detachment was not helped by the frequent employment of spoken narration by the characters. Relevant here is the old adage ‘show, don’t tell’. Whilst I understand that some scenes would be immensely difficult to ‘show’ in a theatre space, some moments didn’t allow the actors to be present, instead forging a barrier to the story being told by talking around the action, instead of just doing it.
In pointing out these textual challenges, it must be said that all of the actors are very invested in the performance. They give utmost efforts, which results in a bubbling, youthful energy that at points menacingly turns to chaos. Sanders has aptly created a wonderful feeling of authentic friendship that is supported by the amusing way the friends speak and interact with each other. All performances are commendable. I enjoyed Olivia Jubb’s wild and free Frankie, being greatly humorous and a very natural presence on stage.
Stephanie Howe’s set design complements the play well in its versatility and it is interesting to observe the actors interacting with the space – particularly in the dust storm sequence. The movement of the dust through the space at different points serves contrasting purposes effectively. To me, it felt like an appropriate connection to land, which is a poignant image.
It is so important that Australian works are staged that engage meaningfully with the impact colonial invasion has had, and continues to wreak on indigenous peoples. As both Isaacs and Sanders highlight, the perspective of non-indigenous people must also be explored as a disheartening lack of knowledge and recognition perpetuates the chronic issues. In Flood, we see a hearty attempt and an example depicted of how cultural misunderstanding can culminate in woeful circumstances for all involved.