Review: Rainbow’s End, Darlinghurst Theatre (NSW)

Lynne Lancaster

Jane Harrison’s play follows one Yorta Yorta family’s struggles against assimilation during the Menzies era.
Review: Rainbow’s End, Darlinghurst Theatre (NSW)

The cast of Rainbow’s End. Photo: Robert Catto.

A collaboration between Darlinghurst Theatre Company and Mooghalin Performing Arts, this presentation of Jane Harrison’s 2005 play Rainbow’s End, directed by Liza-Mare Syron, is challenging and thought provoking. Set in the 1950s, it makes us question how much has actually changed today and whether we can we do anything about it.

We follow one Yorta Yorta family’s struggle for community acceptance in the Menzies era, against the backdrop of the 1954 Royal Tour. Focused on three generations of the Dear family, who live in a rundown shack on the Goulburn River flats, we witness through their experiences the challenges of being Aboriginal on land colonised by whites and governed by politicians far away. 

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The play has three fabulous, strong parts for women. Illiterate, widowed Gladys yearns for a better life with a real home and a decent job. Dolly, her teenage daughter, dreams of completing her education and becoming a nurse, while her resilient grandmother, Nan Dear, is resistant to change. Dolly falls for Errol, a geeky yet charming travelling encyclopaedia salesman, whose offer of another world sees their lives take an unexpected turn. 

All this takes place during the Stolen Generations era. (Nan Dear refuses to go to hospitals because that’s ‘where they take away our babies’.) We learn of the appalling conditions that First Peoples live in, and their lack of access to medical help, proper housing, education and jobs. They are stigmatised because of their colour and address; laughed at, patronised and ignored by white people who treat them with unthinking racism. We also see how their language and culture is threatened because of the push for assimilation. We see how local government moves to re-house the Aboriginal community in an austere estate of new homes – whether they want to move or not.

Designer Melanie Liertz’s striking reversible set and period clothing captures the era while Karen Norris’s lighting design offers sumptuous washes of colour and crackling storms.

As feisty matriarch Nan Dear, Lily Shearer gives a wholehearted and at times audacious performance as she hangs on to her dreams of returning to her Murray River country, feasting on swan eggs. Dalara Williams as Gladys gives a spunky, exuberant performance of a woman who lost her husband in World War II and was unable to complete her education because circumstances compelled her to work in a white family’s home. Her inspirational activist speech at the end is both personal and political.

Phoebe Grainger is glowing and delightful as Dolly, who is just completing her Leaving Certificate at the start of the play. She’s full of romantic dreams and aspirations but we see how her life is changed by a dramatic event. Her beloved, Errol, is a tall and charming yet somewhat awkward itinerant Encyclopaedia Britannica salesman winningly played by Lincoln Vickery.

Frederick Copperwaite deftly portrays various influential, odious and patronising white characters – chairman, housing inspector, bank manager, and avaricious landlord – all of whom highlight the fact that they pretend to mean well as they push assimilation.

Rainbow’s End depicts Indigenous resilience in the face of ceaseless disadvantage and discrimination. You ask yourself, what can we do now to right things?

4 stars out of 5 ★★★★

Rainbow’s End
Playwright: Jane Harrison
Director: Liza-Mare Syron
Stage Manager: Julia Orlando
Lighting Designer: Karen Norris
Production Designer: Melanie Liertz
Sound Designer: Phil Downing
Production Manager: Richard Whitehouse
Cast: Frederick Copperwaite, Phoebe Grainer, Lily Shearer, Lincoln Vickery and Dalara Williams
10 August-1 September 2019
Darlinghurst Theatre NSW
Tickets $46-$59

About the author

Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.