Review: Sleeplessness at Riverside Theatres

Review By Rosie Niven


We all know of the dark history of the Stolen Generations, and the atrocities committed on Indigenous Australians throughout the 20th Century. We all remember the National apology in 2008 by Kevin Rudd for the institutionalised harm caused and the generational trauma that has resulted. What many of us don’t know or remember, is that there was a similar apology made to another group of Australians - the Forgotten Australians, a group of approximately half a million children and child migrants who were placed in institutional care, many of which experienced significant child abuse that has had lost lasting effects.


Opening on an image of papers scattered across the stage, performer Kaz Therese slowly collects each document, until they are left with a small pile of notes. This, they tell us, is everything they know about their family. As someone whose grandparents painstakingly recorded my family tree to almost the dawn of time, the notes presented by Therese felt miniscule, leaving many questions unanswered. This is the reality for many of the Forgotten Australians, entering institutions and losing all ties to family with little ability to reconnect and understand their history.


Sleeplessness is a slow burn, but one that is worth watching. Therese is generous in what they share with the audience, exposing each step of their 18-year journey to find answers about where they came from. From a mysterious male relative in an unmarked grave, to stories of women drowning themselves in the river, to addiction and lost connections, there is a deep pain throughout every finding that Therese presents to us in this messy and unapologetic unravelling of migration, intergenerational trauma, and love. But above all this pain is the most important part of Sleeplessness - the truth.


The tech in Sleeplessness is pared back to complement the rawness of Therese’s history. Therese speaks back and forth with an operator placed to the side of the stage, who steps in with touching videos and voiceovers to tell the story when Therese no longer can. It feels as if we are watching these findings unfold in real time, and each twist and turn cuts deeper as we watch the pain of multiple generations evolve through the body of one singular performer.


Sleeplessness is a confronting show that does not shy away from explorations, and at times, depictions of trauma. While at times these depictions make it challenging to fully absorb the narrative presented by Therese, it is raw and honest about what it means to find yourself amongst people with no names or faces, and stories with no beginnings or ends.


It explores the pain of disconnection from your family history, the confusion of not knowing where you come from, and while it is deeply personal, there are elements of Therese’s narrative that will resonate with every audience member. Even if we know every inch of our family tree, we have each felt the emotions that unfold throughout Sleeplessness.


While you can no longer catch Sleeplessness at Riverside Theatres (it only ran for two short nights), I am certain that this is a show that will be brought back very soon. When it does come back, I encourage you to go see it. Although incredibly challenged by this work, it is one that has stuck with me ever since I left the theatre, and one I think will continue to stick with me.

Images Supplied