Pros: Ferociously passionate performances.
Cons: Some under developed stylistic ideas.
Nakkiah Lui’s play This Heaven leaves you with a lump in your throat that is difficult to swallow. Explosively, she gives a voice to Australia’s indigenous community in this utterly believable and captivating play. The work, first performed at Sydney’s Belvoir Street Theatre in 2013, is a well-crafted piece of storytelling; a reminder of the wonder of cultural differences that can bring people together and, achingly, tear them apart. She brutally juxtaposes the beauty of tradition with the horror and abuse that minority groups arguably (I am being diplomatic here) face at the hands of the Establishment.
For ninety action-packed minutes, the audience is guided through the story of an indigenous Australian family at breaking point. After being arrested, an Aboriginal man and father of two dies in police custody. When his family do not receive the justice they think they deserve, their community is thrown into turmoil and his children take the law into their own hands.
The intimacy of the Finborough affords itself well to the storytelling style of the work. The closeness of audience and performers firmly roots everybody in the action and reinforces the intensity of the piece. At times, I felt I could easily throw open my arms and reach out to offer a comforting embrace to a character, or to prevent one of them from making a decision that would, inevitably, lead to disastrous consequences.
Effectively designed, the production is stripped back – something I love about the Fringe – with a simple set. Indeed, the success of the production relies on the capability of its story, dialogue and some ferociously passionate and, at times, trance-inducing performances: engaging monologues feature throughout. One character’s monologue in particular has stayed with me; Ryan (James Mack), the young police officer. Mack effectively evolves the character from one that is seemingly differential, to one fuelled with torment. This reaches a spellbinding climax when he comes face to face with Ducky (Bevan Celestine), the son of the dead Aboriginal man. For me, this character is critical in the play’s attempt to understand the reasons why someone in a position of authority might find themselves, inexcusably, colluding with corruption. Well written and acted.
At moments, every member of the ensemble is exceptional and is able to switch between the natural and more stylistic moments with ease, helping to maintain the fluidity of the piece. I sensed the full investment of the cast and despite it being only the second night, this rarely showed. Very occasionally, the Australian accents felt a little laboured, but this did not detract from the overall competency of the performances. One character I was less able to forge a connection with, or an understanding of, is Joan (Elizabeth Uter), the wife of the dead man, and mother to Ducky and Sissy (Nicole Lecky). I was not quite able to believe that this was a mother who desperately loved and wanted to protect her children, against all the odds.
Director, Laura McCluskey, manages to create highly emotive images and well-driven characters. However, perhaps some of the more stylistic and physical elements of the performance were a wee under developed. Having said this, This Heaven is well worth watching. It’s universal message is one that ought to resonate with most people: a great piece of theatre that transports you to the other side of the world, only to remind you that we face many of the same problems.
Author: Nakkiah Lui
Director: Laura McCluskey
Producer: Waiting in the Dark in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre.
Designed: Zoe Hammond
Lighting: Charlie Lucas
Sound and Music: Jon McLeod
Booking Until: 15 September 2015
Box Office: 0844 847 1652
Booking Link: http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/venue/finborough-theatre-tickets/FINBOROERD/905