It’s about time we produced a play like York in WA.
This is a bold, refreshingly original work that confronts us with our sometimes dubious past.
Without such revelatory creations, our history can get lost in the fog of time, or conveniently expunged from official annals to maintain a veneer of civilized and humane colonial beginnings.
The play helps reveal a slice of the grim injustices and cruelty, particularly wrought upon indigenous people, which have stained the WA narrative from first settlement to today.
Many issues that existed in the 1830s are still with us, like black deaths in custody. Racism and bigotry remain, and York conveys this message well – and hopefully may help heal some of it in the real world.
Black Swan State Theatre Company is currently staging this engaging and powerful story at the State Theatre Centre. It spans 200 eventful years in the historic settler town, 100km east of Perth.
York opens with a cheekily contemporary scene in which two women in a same sex marriage have purchased, and are moving into the town’s old hospital building – indeed, the all too familiar Tree Change of Covid times.
All the action takes place in this old edifice, and the set remains static throughout the play.
But things soon start getting a little weird in the new abode and we are left in no doubt it is infested with poltergeists and apparitions.
While a little cliché, the hauntings are well conveyed at an earlier time, 1985 to be exact, when the old building was used for Cub Scout camps. The spooks are up to their mischievous deeds. Here we have the silliness of Ghostbusters amalgamated with recurring Scooby Doo themes, but it certainly adds a bit of corny humour to the tale.
The second act becomes more serious and bleak as we are swept back in time. The building, serving as a military hospital post World War One, is filled with the tragedy of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Finally we are back to the earliest years of European settlement and discover the brutal truth of our colonial past. The ghosts of victims of those harsh, often criminal, times gone by, remain in the rooms and passages.
Human mistreatment and cruelty are pervasive themes throughout, be it toward innocent indigenous people caught up in the merciless white invasion of their lands, or callow young white men driven mad by the horrors of war.
York is a local, sprawling, resonating effort and is a credit to its writer-creators Ian Michael and Chris Isaacs.
Artistic director Clare Watson says she greatly enjoyed, and was moved by, bringing the play to its fruition.
“As a theatre maker, there are some projects that you work on that change you,” she says. “They profoundly recalibrate your thinking and make you see the world anew.
“York is definitely one of those plays. The years of development have made me more finely attuned to the whispers of history that emerge from this beautiful country.
“So many have lived and loved and told stories here before us – there are whispers that emerge from the walls of old buildings, from the trees that have borne witness to multiple generations and from the land itself.
“The process has been extraordinary in its care, reverence, harmony and deep listening – and I will cherish this experience forever. York is an important and powerful piece of theatre.”
While many West Australians will recognise familiar themes, places and times portrayed in York, they will also be exposed to stark realities of our past that have been hidden and forgotten for too long.
Go see it. It’s good.
DIRECTORS: Clare Watson and Ian Wilkes
WRITERS: Ian Michael and Chris Isaacs
CAST: Shakira Clanton, Isaac Diamond, Jo Morris, Ben Mortley, Benjamin Narkle, Jacob Narkle, Sophie Quin, Maitland Schnaars, Alison Van Reeken, Elise Wilson
SET & COSTUME DESIGNER Zoë Atkinson, LIGHTING DESIGNER Lucy Birkinshaw, COMPOSER/SOUND DESIGNER Dr Clint Bracknell, VOICE COACH Julia Moody, DRAMATURG Polly Low
York runs until Sunday August 1 at the State Theatre Centre (although we hear the run may be extended due to popular demand).
For more information and bookings go to www.bsstc.com.au