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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

The Whisper, at fortyfivedownstairs - 50 minutes

A distressing story about intimidation and forced relocation, Aboriginal playwright and performer Brodie Murray dug into his own family history to bring it to life.

 

The Whisper is a reimagining of his grandmother’s journey on horse and cart in the 1940s.

 

When she was just a little girl, under cover of darkness she travelled with her family from Bordertown to Swan Hill to evade detection by the authorities.

 

In the play, Riley (Brodie Murray) is a keen young footballer who dotes on his older brother, Jack (Balla Neba).

Photos by Emma Salmon


Their mum and dad are away. Mum hasn’t been home for over a year and dad, otherwise known as Pop Ray (Greg Fryer), is off on a shearing run.

 

So, the boys are being looked after by Nan Rose (Melodie Reynolds-Diarra).

 

As the piece starts, Jack too has been absent for three weeks and missed an important footy match in which Riley played.

 

Nan is none too happy.

Upon his return, Jack says he has gone bush, but he has actually fallen for a white girl named Annabel.

 

The problem is that the constabulary is cracking down on mixed race unions.

 

Nan explains to Jack what happened some time ago to Uncle John, but Jack thinks he knows better.

 

Soon enough though, the whole family is on the lam, trying to avoid the police who have gotten wind of what is going on and want to make an example of "recalcitrants".

It is only then that the real cat and mouse game begins, one which is bound to end badly.

 

For Jack, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

 

We need to hear more stories like this, stories shamefully embedded in this country’s history.

 

The fact that it is has been drawn from reality makes it all the more compelling.

 

It is hard to watch oppression in any form.


Here it is based purely on the colour of a person’s skin and, as such, it is particularly odious.

There is discussion about Nan’s totem, the Willie Wagtail.

 

Some Indigenous Australians believe the Willie Wagtail to be a gossiper who eavesdropped around the camps.

 

Sound plays an important part in this production.

 

Shane Grant, who is also in charge of lighting, has ensured vibrant chirping evokes the setting.

Events are played out in and around a simple, old fashioned wooden cart and four wooden crates. The set design concept is the work of Maryanne Sam.

 

She also directs The Whisper and is responsible for the dramaturgy, alongside Glenn Shae and Mari Lourey.

 

Melodie Reynolds-Diarra is impressive as Nan Rose. The latter comes across as a no-nonsense woman who has seen too much in her life.

 

Nan is not afraid to speak her mind. She recognises the consequences of a laissez faire attitude.

 

Balla Neba realises Jack as passionate, cocky, bold and belligerent.


For his part, Brodie Murray plays Riley as well meaning, but wet behind the ears.

 

The good-natured banter between the boys is one of the highlights of the play.

Greg Fryer doubles as the laid-back, take it as it comes father and the authoritarian force of the law.

 

At 50 minutes, The Whisper is a quick watch, with much going for it.

 

I believe it could readily be further developed to potentially flesh out more scrapes and family history.

 

It is playing at fortyfivedownstairs until 25th February, 2024.

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