Brothers Wreck (Malthouse) – theatre review

Darwin is sweltering and it’s raining cats and dogs. Ruben’s (Dion Williams) life is in the toilet. A court has sentenced him to attend counselling after he hit a cop, but he isn’t willing to play ball and he makes his situation worse. He’s full of resentment, struggling to cope with his brother Joe’s death, for which he blames himself. There’s tension at every turn. 

Ruben’s counsellor, David (Trevor Jamieson), has his best interests at heart. So too does his sister Adele (Leonie Whyman) and her boyfriend (his best mate) Jarrod (Nelson Baker) – at whom he frequently lashes out – along with his beloved Aunty (Lisa Flanagan). But in Ruben’s state he shuns them all and goes on drinking binges to try to block out the pain. Unless there is a circuit breaker, Ruben will surely end up in prison … or worse.

Photo: Tim Grey

Written and directed by Jada Alberts (making her directorial debut) Brothers Wreck transports us to her hometown in the Top End and into the midst of a grief-stricken family. She wrote it in part as a love letter to her Indigenous family that in her words “has endured far more than they should have”. When Alberts began crafting the play she felt compelled to do something because people she loved were suffering. They had witnessed something devastating and the loss they felt was horrific and so traumatic that it would alter the course of their lives.

Despite its dramatic subject matter, Brothers Wreck also contains a number of humorous moments, giving some respite from the darkness that predominates.Above all it is about coping – or at least learning how to cope – through the most arduous of times.

Each of the characters is strong in their own way, but that doesn’t stop the agony from entering their lives. There are ghosts that haunt them.

Lisa Flanagan’s is the most colourful role. Although Aunty loves Ruben dearly, she won’t stand for his fits of pique. She gives him a piece of her mind more than once. During the course of proceedings, she also reveals her own demons.

As Adele, Leonie Whyman displays a great deal of empathy; as does Nelson Baker as Ruben’s main man. He’s not afraid to get dirty when the going gets rough. Trevor Jamieson is strong as Ruben’s level-headed counsellor, who has been through his own nightmare in times past. The major focus of attention throughout remains Ruben and Dion Williams captures his tortured soul. 

The staging is inventive and affecting. It features a series of mesh security doors across two levels, and on the floor and ceiling, in a three-sided grey space.  Props – a television, sofa, crates, a plastic table and chairs – are brought in as required. Most creatively, it rains on stage on cue. Dale Ferguson is responsible for set and costume design, while lighting is handled by Chris Petridis.

Photo: Tim Grey

Haunting music begins and ends this production. Sound design and composition is the work of Kelly Ryall.

Incidentally, the title is drawn from a little dinghy the boys rescued and rejuvenated. There were two possible places to end Brothers Wreck – one which removed hope and the other which restored it. You will simply have to see the play to find out which way it went.

Brothers Wreck is on at Merlyn Theatre at Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne until 23 June, before moving to the Odeon Theatre in Adelaide from 27 June to 14 July 2018.

Alex First

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