Review byTatum Stafford
As the oldest inland town in Western Australia, it should come as no surprise that York is full of history, heritage and untold stories. Black Swan’s latest production, York, explores some 200 years of these ‘horrible’ histories in an incredibly powerful and evocative way.
Written by Ian Michael and Chris Isaacs, the play is set within the Old York Hospital; following different periods in history of significance to the supposed ‘haunted’ building. Employing narrative time jumps from modern day to the 1980’s, post-World War One and early white settlement in Australia, each of the play’s three acts sows the seed of the devastating impacts of colonisation on Noongar people.
The opening act sees a young couple (Shakira Clanton and Alison Van Reeken) settling into the hospital, which they have purchased and are eager to renovate. As eerie things begin to occur, the play time-hops back to an alleged haunting of a group of young scouts and their two leaders (played with flair by Shakira Clanton and the perky Jo Morris).
The entire first act is filled with horror tropes, including an ‘off-limits’ locked door in the attic, lights flickering on and off, and household items having a mind of their own. Without giving anything away, a key figure in the ‘scout’ storyline floats in and out of the set with scary precision, and was met with yelps of fright and delight from the vocal opening night audience.
The stakes are raised in Act Two, when the tale of a white matron helping a Noongar woman who doesn’t have permission to keep her child, unfolds. It features some incredible performances, again from Clanton (the mother Iris) and Van Reeken (the matron).
Zoe Atkinson’s striking, multi-level set is abandoned in Act Three, as the actors line the front of the stage to directly address the audience. It was an incredibly powerful and effective choice after the previous two acts, which featured characters darting in and out of rooms within the hospital.
The play was immaculately co-directed by Clare Watson and Ian Wilkes. Each directorial choice felt purposeful and imbued with truth, meaning and heart.
The youth performers within this show should be commended for their inspiring commitment and powerful stage presence.
York is such an important piece of theatre, and I’m sure those who have seen it thus far would agree that it is incredibly pertinent to WA culture and history. Bravo to all involved on sharing this fantastic piece of work.