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Review: Stolen at Wharf 1 Theatre

Review by Kathryn Thomas

Sydney Theatre Company’s poignant production of Stolen marks the second staging of this incredible play by Jane Harrison. This prominent text has been included on the HSC Drama prescriptions list for the last 15 years. Directed by Ian Michael, the production honours Harrison’s original work while successfully adapting it for a new generation. The play centres on the lives of five Indigenous children who are forcibly removed from their families and sent to live in a children’s home. Each child's life takes a different path as they grow into teenagers and young adults, each dealing with the aftermath of their separation in different ways.

Renee Mulder’s simple, yet impactful set design, confronts the entering audience with its haunting and stark features. Featuring an industrial, oversized bed and filing cabinet, creating an almost nightmarish feeling as you enter the Wharf Theatre. The atmosphere that these stage elements provide are effective and are creatively used throughout the production. 

The heart-wrenching opening scene makes a strong impact, with audible grown from the audience. The chilling beginning is heavily relied on to convey the horror and cruelty experienced by these children. The production employs a non-linear narrative, and for audience members who are not particularly familiar with the text, can make it hard to follow the differing timelines. However, this production does differentiate the timelines clearly, with moments of light and shade throughout the performance, particularly demonstrated by Megan Wilding and her ability to find comedic moments within this predominantly dark play. As clear as this production was, it had a handful of moments that felt a little, for lack of a better term, highschool drama. Like overlapping speech, builds that fall in silence, although sometimes effective, is overused.

Megan Wilding (as Shirley) is a standout, delivering a consistent level of vulnerability and commitment to character. Her transformative acting abilities are commendable and really carry the show. Kartanya Maynard (as Ruby) has moments of brilliance in her characterisation of Ruby as a child, however her performance falls into one note, with minimal variation in her tone, making her character's changes unclear. Jarron Andy had a shaky start, perhaps with some nerves, but carried the show home with a heartbreaking and confronting performance as Jimmy in his later years. Stephanie Sommerville felt a touch ‘pantomime’ in her performance, with moments that danced on the border of melodrama. Matthew Cooper felt comfortable in his role, with a strong voice and beautiful ability for storytelling.

The stagecraft of this production is stellar, with Trent Suidgeest’s lighting design that is exceptional. From the harsh, glaring light during the adoption selection process to the projection of images and letters showing the impact on families, and the warm hand-held lamps casting a soft golden glow of despair and disillusionment. A standout moment is the use of family images on the projectors, accompanied by silhouettes, which heightens the emotional weight of each character’s performance.

Stolen is an important play for Australia and our current political climate. It reminds us of our nation’s cruel history and ongoing failures. Although this production has some flaws, it captures moments of emotional depth that reflect the varied, complex, and continuing struggles of First Nations peoples.

Image Supplied


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