Review: The Sirens’ Return, Merrigong Theatre Company (NSW)

Review by Charlotte Smee

Written by Barbara Nicholson and Ali Jane Smith, directed by Anne-Louise Rentell, with musical direction by Daryl Wallis

A project 5 years in the making, The Sirens’ Return is a truly unique piece of music theatre performed at the Port Kembla Pool Amphitheatre and set against the majestic natural backdrop of the endless beach at dusk. In the tradition of verbatim and First Nations Australian theatre, it draws on oral histories collected from women in Port Kembla across time and the legends of mermaids, setting them to the music of Daryl Wallis.

Walking into the Port Kembla Pool at dusk was an event in itself, with the sunset glittering across the rippling water and tiny surfers and swimmers coming into shore, making it feel almost like a projection made just for the audience. It’s easy to see why Rentell and Wallis picked this setting for these stories – it brought an intense familiarity and connection to place that is characteristic of the most poignant oral histories.

Katja Handt’s costume design was beautiful, with each of the women dressed in sequinned dresses that caught the lights, moved with the wind, and reflected off the water just like a mermaid’s tail would. The absolute standout moment of the performance was Matilda Brown’s final story. The ensemble became her young friends, pretending to be the six sisters that became the mermaids of the five islands and Mount Kembla in the dreaming stories of the Wadi Wadi people. Soundscapes of birds and the refrain “I remember”, in addition to the understated ambient music underneath her harrowing story added depth to the simplicity of Brown’s voice.

Daryl Wallis’s music and band (Michael Galeazzi, Mike Quigley) effortlessly switched between everything from a doo-wop style ‘Oh I Wish I Had a Tail’ to quiet plucked strings, or synthesized keyboard underneath stories of pain, grief, and change. Kerrie Sweeney and Marlene Cummins’s blues moments, although surprising, were quite polished and smooth.

[Sirens’ Return] is a piece of theatre to be admired for its bravery and aspirations to greatness, but it doesn’t quite live up to the immense beauty of its natural setting.

The unique setting was not without its challenges. As we took our seats on the grassy amphitheatre “grandstand”, we donned heavy headphones that brought the soundscapes directly to our ears. This was certainly immersive but at times quite intense, particularly when there were multiple different pieces of music and stories for the audience to digest in a row.

There were a few moments in the piece that called for some breathing space in the form of one voice or a quieter section of music to even out each story. Sound issues with microphones meant we missed entire verses of songs or pieces of dialogue, and at one stage the gazebo, housing musicians, blew over in the wind. Unfortunately, the video projection elements mentioned in the cast sheet were also missing from the piece. The determination the performers showed to continue somewhat minimised these interruptions to the performance.

The Sirens’ Return is a project with huge amounts of heart and dedication poured into it. Themes of history, place and connection are clear throughout, but the technical and sound difficulties meant we struggled to see their full effects.

Overall, this production had an incomplete feel to it despite the efforts of a stellar cast of professional performers and musicians. It is a piece of theatre to be admired for its bravery and aspirations to greatness, but it doesn’t quite live up to the immense beauty of its natural setting.

Reviewer Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Sirens’ Return plays at the Port Kembla Pool Amphitheatre from 14th to the 19th February 2022. Tickets can be found here.

The Sirens’ Return
By Anne-Louise Rentell, Barbara Nicholson, Ali Jane Smith and Daryl Wallis

Cast and Creative Team
Director Anne-Louise Rentell
Musical Director Daryl Wallis
Video Designer Laura Turner
Costume Designer Katja Handt
Lighting Designer Travis Kecek
Cast Alice Ansara, Matilda Brown, Marlene Cummins, Di Smith, Billie Rose Prichard, Kerrie Sweeney Photos by Jeremy Park
DATES 14 – 19 February 2022
TIMES 7:30pm
LOCATION Port Kembla Pool Amphitheatre
TICKETS Adult: $49, Under 30s $39, Family of 4 $156 (Max 2 Adults), Pensioners/Groups 8+ $44, School
Groups 8+ $23
AGES 16 +. Contains strong language and strong adult content.

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