Sunday, 6 September 2015

Theatre review: This Heaven

Once again the Finborough Theatre takes us to Australia, which in Nakkiah Lui's This Heaven is shown up as very much backward where civil rights are concerned, at least for the indigenous people. A few years before the play's start, an Aboriginal man died in police custody. A number of legal battles later and the police are let off with a fine, while his family are left feeling abandoned. His widow Joan (Elizabeth Uter) feels particularly betrayed as she actually worked at the police station for 17 years as their Aboriginal Liaison Officer, a role she's now being quietly shunted out of. But for her children Sissy (Nicôle Lecky) and Ducky (Bevan Celestine) their main reaction is anger. Although they have a sympathetic lawyer in James (Timothy Knightley,) he now advises that they've reached the end of what they can do through the courts.

Sissy interprets this as a call to fight in a different way; inspired by similar events around the world, Lui's play sees race riots flare up as she and her brother call on the indigenous people of Sydney to protest.

It's an incendiary subject but you wouldn't necessarily know it from Laura McCluskey's ponderous production. Lui frames the action with Aboriginal creation myths, but while this dreamlike mood spills over into the main action with ominous effect, its threat never translates into energy.

The play, which was first seen here as a Vibrant reading and has already been a hit in Australia, also feels slightly unfinished. There's a pretty serious indictment of the Australian police - the officer we meet, Ryan (James Mack,) is comparatively sympathetic to Joan and her family, but even he admits to violence towards suspects, and holds back evidence in court that would have helped their cause; but he's introduced quite late on and his part of the story feels incomplete.

A cast of variable ability do their best, but while I can see how the harsh facts This Heaven faces up to would have been explosive on home ground, here it's like one of Ducky's plastic Molotov cocktails, lacking the edge to make it really go off.

This Heaven by Nakkiah Lui is booking in repertory until the 15th of September at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes straight through.

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