An achievement of storytelling saturated with rain and feeling
By Leeor Adar
Jada Alberts is an exceptional writer and member of the creative community. Her first community, as an Indigenous Australian, is that of her family, and her family have lived and breathed realities that were not their choice to create. So Alberts creates, and as a storyteller she can take the tragedy of losing a loved one and make it a powerful conversation about grief. For a first foray into the world of playwriting, Alberts’ Brothers Wreck is an aching and loving work, despite its shroud of suffering.
Jada’s grief for those she’s lost and the lives of her people runs deep, and Brothers Wreck is a potent “love letter” to her own family. In Brothers Wreck, a family must manage their loved one coping with the aftermath of a suicide. With an existing high rate in young male suicides, Indigenous Australian men are at an even greater risk. From the biting account of his every day roadblocks, Ruben (Dion Williams) recounts his frustrations with the world to the Court-appointed counsellor, David (Trevor Jamieson). Ruben’s anger is palpable, and no reason will quench the deep sense of injustice he feels towards his world. Fiercely protective of his family, we learn that he was unable to protect his friend and cousin, the unseen Joe, from himself.
Ruben’s struggle reaches a fever pitch with the terminal illness of his mother, and the arrival of his aunt (Lisa Flanagan), an uncompromising powerhouse of a woman who refuses to give up on him. In truth, none of those around Ruben, including his sister (Leonie Whyman), and cousin (Nelson Baker), will give up on him. Confronted once again with the gloom of death, Ruben’s nightly visitations to the past deepen his addictions and sense of gloom.
The oppressive heat and thunderous downpours of Darwin serve as a brutal backdrop to this family’s saga. With harrowing recollections of the past, including a haunting account of death, Lisa Flanagan’s performance as Ruben’s aunt is the absolute standout in this production. Her arrival upon her family brings the storms, and the opportunity for healing. Supported by a stunning cast, Alberts directs a deeply moving performance literally saturated with rain and feeling.
Dale Ferguson’s staging becomes another character in this production, as the stage feels like a glib prison, with doorways made of metal-screen netting, and drains to collect the water that intrudes upon the stage. It’s a fantastically considered set: its prison-like qualities a reminder of the excessive incarceration of members of the Indigenous community, and the sense of hopelessness and poverty that pervade the characters’ lives.
Despite the focus on mental health and death, Brothers Wreck is a hopeful, often funny, and poignant play about a family and its refusal to collapse in the face of hardship. Momentarily uplifted by this warmth, I am reminded that family cannot be the only hope for a community, there is so much more work needed to bridge the almost insurmountable gap between Indigenous Australians and the rest of the nation.
Alberts’ work is an achievement of storytelling, and I hope to see more of her writing in the future.
Brothers Wreck is being performed at Malthouse Theatre until 23 June. Tickets can be puchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9685 5111.
Photographs: Tim Grey