Written by Meyne Wyatt, Directed by Shari Sebbens
Review by Vaanie Krishnan for The Theatre Enthusiast
In our very first collaboration with The Theatre Enthusiast, we’re featuring her City of Gold review originally published here.
City of Gold is a play by Wongutha-Yamatji writer and performer, Meyne Wyatt. Inspired by his own experience, it is separated into two acts and jumps between two timelines. In the first act we meet Breythe Black (Wyatt), an inspiring actor struggling to be successful in an inherently racist media industry while maintaining his dignity as a Wongutha-Yamatji man. While on set he receives a call that his Dad has died and returns back to Kalgoorlie. In Kalgoorlie, we meet Breythe’s family, Carina (Simone Detourbet), Mateo (Matthew Cooper) and his deaf cousin Cliffhanger (Ian Michael) who are all trying to navigate the loss of Breythe’s father (Trevor Ryan) on top of the daily injustices they experience in their town.
The first act runs a little long but is packed with needed context and character development. In this new production of his 2019 piece with Black Swan Theatre Company, Wyatt’s script is surprisingly balanced with pockets of humour that often use race but never degrade it. With ‘diverse theatre’ the buzz word of the day, Wyatt does with grace what many other BIPOC1 artists are struggling to do. Instead of screaming racism at the top of his lungs, Wyatt is not afraid to sit in an awkward space that says, wait… let me show you. The themes central to the show are things we all experience: grief, loss, guilt, the sacrifices we make for our family. It is from these central concepts that Wyatt builds his case. For all of us there are things at stake, but for First Nations people, the stakes are higher. It is in the simultaneous universality and specificity of City of Gold that Wyatt demonstrates his sophistication and maturity as a writer.
The collaboration with his best friend and director Shari Sebbens turn the central concept into visual experiences. Several pivotal visual moments, such as the dream sequences and visions that Breythe has of his father, stay in your mind long after you have left the theatre. Sebbens harnesses lighting by Verity Hampson and sound by Rachael Dease to build tension and bring the set to life. In one dream sequence, the Black house is transformed into a deafening maze with Breythe at the centre, a hurricane of all engulfing sadness and loss that mimics the way grief is relentless and unforgiving. Another beautiful cultural moment is the funeral of his father. Sound design by Dease throughout the play is impressive but it is perhaps the moments that sound stops that are the most impactful.
Matthew Cooper is the dark horse of the show. He delivers an unexpectedly nuanced performance of an incredibly challenging and sometimes unlikeable character with grace and conviction. The moments between brothers are some of the plays most heartfelt and insightful. Simone Detourbet’s performance as Breythe’s sister is less nuanced, and a little one dimensional. We never quite see her walls come down even though the script gives her plenty of opportunity to do so.
As a performer Wyatt is enigmatic, a complete character, but it’s in the monologues and moments alone where he is most commanding. Don’t get me wrong, the play is angry, but the anger is considered and when we finally see it in the second act monologue, it feels earned. Some audiences may be unclear about how this moment of reflection fits with the story. Is it Breyth? Is it Wyatt? Does it matter? Wyatt’s patience is demonstrated in the structure of his storytelling, the way the monologue builds is so compelling and engaging that it rivals the best Shakespearean soliloquies.
Perhaps the most halting reflection is the fact that City of Gold was written before the death of George Floyd, before the #BlackLivesMatter movement had happened and there are still 500+ Aboriginal deaths in custody and not one conviction for any of the people responsible for any of those deaths.
As an Australian, regardless of your heritage or background, City of Gold is a must watch.
A note for non-theatre goers: Pay particular attention to the costume changes between scenes, this is sometimes the only indication of where we are in the timeline. While it doesn’t impact the experience of the play, it will help you see the intelligence of its structure.
Wyatt dedicated his opening night performance to Jai Wright – A 16 year old Dunghutti boy who died after colliding with an unmarked police car whilst riding a bike on the 19th of February 2022. #JusticeForJai.
1BIPOC – Black, Indigenous, People of Colour
CAST AND CREATIVES
Writer Meyne Wyatt
Director Shari Sebbens
Designer Tyler Hill
Lighting Designer Verity Hampson
Video Designer Michael Carmody
Composer & Sound Designer Rachael Dease
Design Consultant Zoë Atkinson
Assistant Director Daley Rangi
Mathew Cooper, St John Cowcher, Simone Detourbet, Ian Michael, Myles Pollard, Trevor Ryan, Meyne Wyatt
Images by Joseph Mayers
Marketing image Rene Vaile