Saturday, 24 October 1998

Stolen , Playbox, Oct 24, 1998

by Jane Harrison, by Playbox
Merlin Theatre until November 14, 1998

As a whitefella, it is easy to remain at arm's length from the Stolen Children of our aboriginal nation, easy to say "Sorry" and to want reconciliation. But actually being one of the stolen generation must be incomprehensibly hard.

Stolen, a collaboration between The Ilbijerri Theatre Co-operative and Playbox, sketches the stories of five children stolen from their aboriginal families in early childhood. We see them dragged from mum, told she is dead, terrified when incarcerated in a children's home, traumatised when abused by 'weekend' foster fathers or bosses.

This play left me weeping for broken lives, tortured souls and scattered families - and I was just an audience member, a white one at that. The company of aboriginal actors are immersed both as artists and as individuals.

Jimmy's (Paul Briggs) life degenerates into petty crime and tragedy, Ruby's (Kylie Belling) into servitude and mental illness. Sandy (Stan Yarramunua) maintains a sense of dignity in his original culture as an adult while Anne's (Tammy Anderson) adoptive family nearly expunge all relationship to her native culture.

Jane Harrison developed the script for Ilbijerri between 1992-97 with assistance from Reichstein Foundation, Australia Council and Playbox.

Stolen is directed with finesse by Wesley Enoch who co-wrote and directed The Seven Stages of Grieving about reconciliation. He was Artistic Director of Kooemba Jdarra Theatre from 1994-97.

The play is not a linear narrative. We see and hear snatches of each child's "theft" interspersed with his or her later experiences, mothers' letters to the lost children and adoptive parents' diatribes about gratitude. "Be good or the welfare'll get ya," chants Jimmy's mum prophetically.

The play begins at a cracking, almost playful, pace then tilts us into darker territory. Enoch conjures profound emotional responses from simple images. Nancy (Pauline Whyman OK) lines up 26 Christmas presents awaiting her adult son's return. Ruby returns with a girlish pink gift after each abusive weekend. A steel-frame bed is used as a gaol cell.

Slides of tin cans or barbed wire ar set against derelict concrete wall of Richard Roberts design. Richard Frankland's evocative soundscape tinges the air with anguish.

Stolen pays homage to those who survived and those who perished because of this appalling policy to separate children from their families - and lie about it. It is a sweet, startling and moving experience.

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