First published on 12 Jun 2012. Updated on 12 Jun 2012.
Nowadays, Unanderra is a sleepy suburb of Wollongong that’s only a hop, skip and a jump away from Sydney. But just over 100 years ago, it was known as Charcoal Creek and was the frontier of New South Wales.
Playwright Marcel Dorney has drawn inspiration for his play from a documented instance of violence towards newcomers in Charcoal Creekall those years ago. Farmers Tom and Brigid, who have lived all their lives on the harsh landscape, are confronted when the English city-dwellers Edward and Charlotte arrive under a cloud of mystery. The play deals with a number of themes that still get under the skin of Australian audiences – after all, it was only a few years ago Cronulla erupted in violence in similar circumstances.
The performances are all strong, particularly from newcomer Olivia Beardsley as Charlotte, and there are some great scenes where people and attitudes from different worlds collide. But starting the play with a ten-minute monologue where one character talks about her deepest fears is a mistake. Not that Catherine Moore does a bad job as Brigid, but it’s a monologue designed to set the scene and build tension, and it really just tests the audience’s patience.
And that’s the biggest problem with the play. It’s clearly supposed to be full of dramatic tension, and Daryl Wallis’s eerie sound design and Anne-Louise Rentell’s direction and sparse set go a long way to achieving that. But the script shifts uncomfortably between flowery, reflective monologues and naturalistic dialogue. The dialogue is insightful, revealing much about the characters. The monologues: less so.
There are moments in Charcoal Creek that will make you question the way you react to people different from yourself. It’s a play with a lot of potential, but it’s a good few workshops away from having the impact it could.