Review: Wild Cherries, La Mama Theatre (VIC)

Arjun Rajkhowa

A moving piece of Australian theatre that examines the brutality of forced labour.
Review: Wild Cherries, La Mama Theatre (VIC)

Troy Larkin, Enzo Nazario and Kim Ho. Photo: Sarah Walker.

Australian playwright Daniel Keene’s Wild Cherries is a play about entrapment in exploitative systems of labour. A group of workers in a farm in an unnamed place confront the reality of their seemingly inescapable servitude, and the prospect of being removed and separated from each other at a moment’s notice. If they try to escape, they will face the wrath of their controllers and be severely punished; if they remain, they will invariably continue to be exploited and oppressed. There is a menacing (but unnameable) danger right around the corner but they don’t know what it is. As itinerant workers, they have very little knowledge of their location or the circumstances in which they will find themselves next.

ADVERTISEMENT

There is a lingering undercurrent of fear to the play, but while this ominous atmosphere is sustained well at the start, it dissipates somewhat as the play progresses. The mystery of the impending threat takes a backseat as the characters’ narratives become the focus. The play has a linear but complex trajectory and the story becomes more engrossing as each individual’s narrative unfolds and we discover complexity and sadness of an unanticipated magnitude. Director Beng Oh’s production fittingly reflects the multiethnic social and cultural landscape of contemporary Australia, and, at the very start of the play, the character Sonia (Carmeline Di Guglielmo) offers reflections on home, displacement and identity that would undoubtedly resonate with migrants of any background.

The stories that we hear in this play are the stories of workers who have fallen prey to forced labour and bondage and they speak to experiences of loss and entrapment that can only be fully grasped at the very end of the play.

Troy Larkin, as Emil, delivers the most stirring performance in this production, powerfully articulating the hopelessness of a man who compares his degradation to that of an animal while wishing to become one – transforming the brooding despondency of his character into crazed anger.

Kim Ho  has a soft and gentle presence on stage as Dorin, and evocatively recounts the story of a lost brother. Dorin mourns, without rancour, the sad and lonely death of his companion, whose brutal exploitation hastened his terminal illness.

As lovers Elena and Antoni, Lucy Ansell and Enzo Nazario celebrate a romance that offers an antidote to the brutality of their circumstances, reaffirming the value of love and affection in the face of inhumanity. Nazario’s perfectly light-hearted comic interludes serve as a foil for the other stories in the play.

Dennis Coard, as Cezar, tells a compelling tale about endurance in a resonant Scottish voice, and Molly Broadstock, as Laura, conveys the vulnerability of a child who cannot remember and could never have known her mother. Milijana Čančar, as Afina, delivers mournful reflections on the loss of a daughter from whom she has been separated for many years.

While this production does bring out many intricate performances, it needs some finessing to fully achieve its potential. Perhaps it is an intrinsic feature of the play that the characters shine momentarily as they reveal their stories in soliloquies but become somewhat more subdued when the plot resumes.

The stage design and lighting convey the sparseness of a scene of entrapment, and capture the atmosphere of a brutalising temporary ‘home’ that could be anywhere.

4 stars out of 5 ★★★★

Wild Cherries
By Daniel Keene
Director: Beng Oh
Cast: Lucy Ansell, Molly Broadstock, Milijana Čančar, Dennis Coard, Carmelina Di Guglielmo, Kim Ho, Troy Larkin, Enzo Nazario
Designer: Emily Collett
Lighting designer: Shane Grant
S
ound designer: Ben Keene
14-25 August 2019
La Mama Courthouse, Carlton
Tickets $20-$30

About the author

Arjun Rajkhowa is a Melbourne-based writer and academic.