Review: Trustees

Politically charged theatre as beautiful as it is crushing 

By Owen James

I can’t remember the last time I stood up so quickly when the lights came up for applause. Trustees is by far the most relevant, powerful and responsive piece of theatre I’ve seen in a long time, and any Australian concerned with the dumbfounding rates of racism, indigenous discrimination, refugee torture and sexism prevalent in our country will resonate with the honest and painful truths to which Trustees opens our eyes.

Yes, Trustees is highly socially and politically charged – but it’s a necessary and all-too-pertinent reminder of how we do have the power to overcome the “traditions, habits and stereotypes” that we silently ignore every day. After a fast-paced and technologically interactive opening (keep your phone on and web browser open!) where a new government policy has stripped the fictional Lone Pine Theatre Company of their funding, the trustees of Lone Pine meet to determine the route towards a secure economic future in our typical noncommittal Australian creative climate. From here, a turbulent ride through perspective, privilege, and uncertain, unreliable reconciliation makes for easily the most engaging and jaw-dropping evening at the theatre you will witness all year.

Co-directors and writers Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada (both political refugees) have created a very comfortable, creative space that both performers and audience feel mutually at ease in – you will laugh, you will cheer, and you will join in on the Mexican wave. With their refugee background greatly informing and influencing the work, the depiction of these actors’ stories has been handled with sensitivity and love, despite the raw and confronting nature of the material presented.

The warmth of all five performers (Daniel Schlusser, Tammy Anderson, Natasha Herbert, Niharika Senapati and Hazem Shammas) resonates throughout the room as these creatives tackle extremely personal issues with confronting and honest performances. This diverse cast of five share with us their “testimonies about the state of our society” from the perspective of their unique backgrounds and each new perspective presents a strand of our normalised and embarrassing history. It’s their own experiences with inequality and battles with society, prejudice and culture that they’re laying naked (sometimes literally) for us to understand, in many ways donating their personal life experiences to a larger cause, pushing for change.

The set design by Romanie Harper serves every unique corner of the text with chilling physicality, placing all the action atop a lush red carpet where only the privileged should walk. The core set piece is a gargantuan metal table that gradually uncovers its secrets across the ninety-minute runtime; I won’t give them away here, but its transformative properties are utter genius. Trustees gets messy with liquid, fire and dirt – so huge kudos to the stage management team (Adam Chesnutt and Adalaide Harney) who deal with the catastrophic aftermath nightly.

Amidst the constant, inescapable flow of #fakenews, Trustees teaches that our shameful history is embedded deep within our culture – and it will be a long and hard road to remove our racist, unbalanced and ignorant hivemind-mindset. Trustees desperately pleads for a reconciliation of fractured ideas of equality, and seeks to reclaim Australian multicultural pride and eliminate illogical nationalistic patriotism, uprooting our stoic and imbalanced sense of white male perfection.

Congratulations to Malthouse and Melbourne International Arts Festival for presenting this relevant piece of theatre Australia desperately needs, with genuine truth at its heart. Do not possibly miss this masterpiece.


Trustees is being performed at Malthouse Theatre until 21 October as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on  03 9685 5111.

Photograph:  Nicolai Khalezin