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Reviews/Theatre

City of Gold – one hell of a wake-up call

21 March 2022

An unflinching, unapologetic script makes for an exceptional piece of theatre, erupting with incisive dialogue that sticks in Claire Trolio’s mind long after leaving the theatre.

City of Gold, Black Swan State Theatre Company of WA and Sydney Theatre Company ·
Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA, 19 March 2022 ·

Set against a backdrop of dusty Kalgoorlie, City of Gold is a bold and brutal play, and one hell of a playwriting debut for established Wongutha-Yamatji actor Meyne Wyatt.

After seasons with Griffin Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre, City of Gold is making its WA premiere as part of Perth Festival in a Black Swan State Theatre Company and Sydney Theatre Company co-production.

Wyatt also stars in his semi-autobiographical tale. He plays Breythe Black, an actor who returns home to the Goldfields following the death of his father. There he confronts filial guilt, quarrelsome siblings, financial pressure and systemic racism. This is not a feel-good play, it’s a wake-up call to the inertia of racism in this country.

In his career, Breythe is never just an actor, he’s always the Indigenous actor. “I love reppin’,” he states in an electrifying monologue that starts Act II, “but I don’t hear old Joe Bloggs being called a white Anglo-Saxon actor.” This pitch-perfect soliloquy goes on to call out both the explicit and subtle racism that’s par for the course in a First Nations person’s day.

You might have seen Wyatt perform an excerpt of this searing scene on ABC TV’s Q+A in 2020. If not, I suggest you look it up.

It’s the unflinching, unapologetic script that makes City of Gold the exceptional piece of work that it is. Rage burns, each character bubbling over with both personal and shared torment, erupting with incisive dialogue that sticks long after leaving the theatre.

Two characters from City of Gold, pictured are siblings. A woman and man stand staring at something beyond the camera. They look angry.
Quarrelsome siblings: Simone Detourbet as Carina and Mathew Cooper as Mateo . Photo: Daniel J Grant

After playing Breythe’s sister Carina in the Griffin Theatre Company season, Shari Sebbens (Bardi/Jabirr Jabirr) has taken the reins as director this time around. Her knowledge of and compassion for the characters is clear.

Carina Black (Malak Malak/Gooniyandi woman Simone Detourbet) is hopeful and idealistic. A familiar female character, she’s the one that everyone turns to – the mediator, the caregiver, the organiser. Detourbet shoulders that weight convincingly. Matthew Cooper is their belligerent brother Mateo. His energy runs high, as does his alcoholism, and Cooper does well to blend where one ends and the other begins.

A labyrinthine house forms part of Tyler Hill’s versatile set that changes from a family’s backyard to the streets of Kalgoorlie with a simple lighting change. This house is haunted by both an invisible mother, always just inside but never seen, and a father visible through recollections of the past. Bryon Black, the father figure, is brought to life by Noongar/Yamatji actor Trevor Ryan in tender scenes that fuse memory and dream. Ryan’s singing at his own character’s funeral is an exquisite moment of calm and beauty in an otherwise ferocious work.

Pictured a character from City of Gold, a man in a suits sits on a chair, a drink in one hand. He looks upwards, thoughtfully.
Trevor Ryan and Meyne Wyatt (background). Photo: Daniel J Grant

Wilman Noongar man Ian Michael is completely charming as the mullet-sporting younger cousin. The superb cast is rounded out with Myles Pollard and St John Cowcher each glinting in minor supporting roles.

City of Gold plays with time, and presenting parallel narratives is a brilliant way to usher a sense of foreboding and to underscore the constant threat of police brutality towards First Peoples. At times in Act I, though, it wasn’t immediately clear to me which timeline we were in and as a result, momentum suffered. But that didn’t matter when these narratives came to a head in a powerful crescendo that left the audience staggering into the night.

City of Gold holds a mirror up to contemporary Australian society, exposing injustices and demanding that we do better.

City of Gold continues at the State Theatre Centre of WA until 27 March 2020.

Pictured top: Meyne Wyatt with Trevor Ryan in ‘City of Gold’. Photo: Daniel J Grant

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Author —
Claire Trolio

Claire Trolio completed a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) and a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) at UWA. She writes about Western Australia for various digital and print media and owns a shop with her sister. For her, the spider swing is the ultimate in playground fun.

Past Articles

  • It’s a strike!

    Local theatre company strikes just the right note, with a feel-good story of female friendship and tenpins, writes Claire Trolio.

  • Grease not the word for a new world

    Catchy tunes and nostalgia aren’t enough to make this new production of an old favourite relevant today, writes Claire Trolio.

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