By Rosie Niven
On the flats of the Goulburn River in a tin shack barely holding it together, three generations of the Dear family reside: Grandmother Nan Dears, daughter Gladys, and her daughter Dolly. Gladys and Dolly dream of leaving The Flats and moving onto bigger and better things, while Nan resists the change, wanting to stay amongst her community and away from the big city of judgement and bigotry. What results is Rainbow’s End, a beautiful story about hope and resilience from First Nations voices. From Jane Harrison, the writer of acclaimed work Stolen, Rainbow’s End shares with the audience an honest look at what 1950s Australia was like for First Nations people.
Production designer Melanie Liertz presents us with a well-designed set that encapsulates the cramped nature of The Flats were many First Nations people were moved to, giving space for the actors to shine and allowing for a clean transformation when the Dears family are moved to the Rumbalara housing. Apart from a lot of running back and forth for quick cues, the actors work well within the set. However, much of the lighting and sound feels a little jarring. Karen Norris’ lighting and Phil Downing’s sound serve the production well during the naturalistic moments (Downing’s aging effects with the microphone and radio are fantastic), but there are many points where the actors seem to be caught in a dream or a fantasy, and the strong lighting and sound shift during these moments doesn’t serve the scene.
While the ensemble as a whole has weaker moments and feels less than cohesive, it is the younger actors in this that truly shine: Phoebe Grainer as the bubbly Dolly who dreams of leaving The Flats and moving to the city, Lincoln Vickery as the nervous and bumbling Errol that wants Dolly to run away with him, and Dalara Williams as the headstrong Gladys, a woman who refuses to give up the fight for equal rights for First Nations Peoples. Coming from the successes of Blackie Blackie Brown (STC and Malthouse) and Winyanboga Yurringa (Belvoir), it is no shock that Williams’ stage presence is electric, but it is her final speech that is utterly arresting. Speaking directly to the audience, she makes an appeal for White Austrailans to cease the persecution of First Nations Peoples and acknowledge their right to be on this land, and we feel the spotlight turn directly onto us.
Rainbow’s End is an ode to the unsung heroes of First Nations history: the women who worked tirelessly to protect their families and fight back against forced assimilation during the Menzies era. It is also an unapologetic look at what many people had to suffer during that period because of their Aboriginal heritage - many of whom are still impacted by that treatment. At no point does Rainbow’s End shy away from the reality of White Australia and its toxic history, but it also moves away from a story of pure tragedy, remembering those who felt happy and free living on The Flats amongst other Aboriginal families. The strength of this piece definitely comes from its storytelling, and while the tech didn’t seem to match the story, I’m glad to see these voices on the Sydney main stages more and more frequently.
Image Credit: Robert Catto
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.