What: Brothers’ Wreck, produced by the State Theatre Company and Malthouse Theatre
When: 27 June – 14 July
Where: Odeon Theatre
Tickets via the link
As a teenager living in the Northern Territory’s Top End, playwright Jada Alberts saw suicide swept under the rug by her community. Although Indigenous suicide rates are some of the highest in the world, the taboo topic is still too often shrouded in silence. Now, Alberts seeks to throw the conversation wide open with Brothers Wreck, a gut-wrenching and unflinching look at grief, trauma, and the loving ties that allow us to weather the storm – if we open our hearts to them.
Brothers Wreck centres on Ruben, a young Indigenous man whose life is thrown into turmoil after his cousin commits suicide. In the opening scene, an idyllic vignette of family life is suddenly shattered by the off-stage discovery of Joe’s body. It’s one of the rawest and most confronting displays of pure grief I’ve seen on stage, despite the ‘action’ happening out of sight. The suicide sets into motion a mounting emotional crisis that builds the tension right up until the cathartic climax of the play.
Ruben’s pain is the axis on which the rest of the play pivots; his presence is a constant emotional anchor in every scene. As he spirals out of control, teetering closer and closer to the same edge his cousin plunged from, the audience constantly wonders whether he will fall off or find his feet again. It’s agonising to watch Ruben push away his loved ones, blind to the fact that they are all united by the same pain. Dion Williams brings authenticity and passion to his portrayal of Ruben’s tortured psyche. His powerful stage presence makes it difficult to believe this is his stage debut. Through this character, we see the destructive maelstrom that cultural taboos and toxic masculinity can create in a person suffering through trauma, unable to reach out and allow others to help him process his emotions.
The power of processing grief through storytelling is shown through a series of monologues. Each character has their own defining moment where they reflect on the trauma they have experienced. On more than one occasion I was moved to tears, and the audible sniffles I heard around me in the audience indicated I wasn’t alone.
The tropical Darwin rain is an ever-present backdrop, sometimes a quiet trickle, sometimes a downpour that threatens to drown out the connections between characters. In certain scenes, Ruben is physically drenched by a shower of water falling from the ceiling. When Aunty Petra mops the floor at the end of the play, we can’t help but view it as a metaphor for the cleansing of the emotional outpouring we’ve just witnessed.
A healthy dose of comic relief adds warmth to otherwise heavy material, and this is where Lisa Flanagan shines as Aunty Petra. She’s a standout as the vivacious tough-love matriarch, capable of delivering a performance that is equally hilarious and emotional. Strong performances from the rest of the cast and Alberts’ authentic voice make this feel like a real family, taking us through the whirlwind of heartache, love, humour and hope that family so often bring.
Ultimately, it’s in the arms of his family and community that Ruben finds healing. This is the message of Brothers Wreck: the ties of our loved ones can pull us through even the most shattering grief, trauma, and loss. In a society where the shockingly high suicide rates in Indigenous communities are often invisible to the mainstream eye, this play is essential viewing.