Prove your humanity

Blood runs thicker than water. But for three Australian families across three decades, white lies told to protect loved ones sees family ties come undone.

The call of the native birds is a sound many of us wake up to, chirruping away in the background of our conscious minds. But what if birdsong ceased to exist in the Australian soundscape, and instead was replaced by the whir of drones overhead? Award winning playwright Jane Bodie and director Emily McLean brings this, and many confronting truths to life in Water, a play deep-rooted in Australia’s political constructs and warped value systems.

In the not-so-far-off-future, pipes clang under the kitchen sink—the sound of drought—as water makes its arduous ascent up and out of a spout to the parched Australian’s awaiting gullet. Security measures that were promised by fear-mongering political campaigns have been implemented and it seems nowhere in this great southern land is safe—especially not for a disgraced politician and his family.

Hemmed in by the four walls of their family holiday home, their island paradise has turned into a prison by virtue of legislation passed to keep Australia safe from ‘invasion’. Esteemed Australian television star Igor Sas plays the exiled party member, opening the show with a paranoid monologue foreshadowing his fall from grace. Matriarch of the family, Beth (Glenda Linscott) brings a frenzied energy to the stage seeking solace from her husband’s wrongdoings in a bottle of Pinot Grigio. Her vapid defence is highlighted when she exclaims how everyone shall just drink wine when there is no more water.

Also indulging in some liquid candour, Gemma (Amy Mathews), an uptight corporate powerhouse comes ‘home’ for the weekend only to find the smoke and mirrors of her childhood evaporating. But when daddy’s little girl, Joey (Emily Rose Brennan) returns from her global gallivanting she brings an unwanted guest (Richard Maganga) to dinner. The constant struggle between right-wing and left-wing seems trivial when a story of one family’s destruction can no longer justify keeping another’s safe.

“Stop the boats”—a white lie that we as a nation have been fed.

Act two transports us to post WWI and desperate Australians are making the journey across unrelenting oceans to America, the promised land, only to be stopped at the border. Watching the stage designer, Fiona Bruce’s sparse wooden set transform from Nedlands family holiday escape, to holding rooms for two Australian migrants, the audience feel the shoe slide onto the other foot.

On the brink of The Great Depression, drought has left their homeland devastated and all they seek is shelter, security and a new start. But these humans are merely a number attached to a nurse’s clipboard, or a letter—“L for lame”.

“All we’re asking for is to live a life! Why would anyone deny us that?” the nameless migrant pleads.

Water seeks to find truth in these lies, and in doing so shows how history tends to repeat itself. The dehumanisation of the non-European ‘other’ is a theme interwoven throughout this Australian drama. In post-colonial Australia, a naive mistress tells a fabled reality of how her father rescued his Pacific Island slaves, gave them work and put a roof over their heads. But we and her sugarcane farmhand friend know the truth behind Australia’s long covered up black-birding slave trade.

Bodie’s character development comes to life through the deliberate dialogue exchanged between characters each resonating a past that preceded them. Audiences will be left questioning their pasts, the white lies they have been subject to, or the ones they tell themselves to justify their own state of existence.

Water, a play ringing with timely truths, is showing until May 26 at the State Theatre’s Studio Underground.

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