Kate Wyvill’s newest work is a comic delight with meaty themes, and certainly packs a punch.
George Shevtsov and Nicola Bartlett in And I’m The Queen of Sheba. Photo credit: Paz Tassone.
Home to Alma and Frank, both in their 80s and both with secrets, Sutton Downs cattle station is in decline.
Alma is the owner, saddled with a $7 million bank debt. Frank is a cattle manager without any cattle and now a composite of friend, carer and handyman. Together they scheme to survive in their drought-ridden isolation.
Kate Wyvill’s comic banter is sharp and witty and gradually exposes a plethora of dense themes: belonging, displacement, hidden pasts, betrayal, religion, and First Nations’ history. The cost of self-preservation impacts on everyone, including Joe, Alma’s son, and The Stranger, who is nameless until the revelations in the closing act.
And I’m The Queen of Sheba is an engaging mystery which draws the audience in and encourages them to solve a conundrum, to work out where the truth lies amidst all the twists and turns of both character and narrative.
Gail Evans directs with an immaculate understanding of comedy and the play’s themes. Together with Rebecca Adams’ set, Jessie Davis’ lighting design and Matt Cunliffe’s sound design, the creative team successfully evoke the visceral world of the play.
The set is a vast, boat-like monolith which the characters are marooned upon. It references a desert mirage, Fata Morgana, and echoes the state of the cattle station as things drop and crash onto the stage. It is dominated by the Catholic shrine which Alma visits frequently to pray and chat to ‘Our Lady’. Characters descend a rickety ladder to the arid ground below – the earth that has such a strong hold on their lives.
Nicola Bartlett is a delight in the role of Alma. She is mercurial, with a great sense of playfulness that captivates as she banters and schemes. Bartlett’s obvious enjoyment of Alma’s grudges and deceits enables the audience to feel empathy as the character’s tragedy is eventually revealed.
Frederick Copperwaite, George Shevtsov and Andrew Tighe are also strong and make for a tight ensemble. Shevtsov brings a physicality to his role which is helped by his extraordinarily tall, lean frame and long wild hair. The scene between Alma and Joe, with Joe desperate to get Alma to sign paperwork is a winner, with both actors revelling in the writing and the comic timing required to bring it to life. This is a play that works best with pace, and falls flat if that pace is dropped.
Kirstin Fausett’s costumes are a perfect support for the characters, playful Aussie rigs twinned with lavish 1950’s dresses and outrageous swimwear. The Stranger arrives in immaculate London designer garb much to the delight of Frank, who is a connoisseur despite the fact that he wears stubbies, singlet, Akubra and blunnies and, visually, is the epitome of the white Aussie station worker.
Matt Cunliffe’s sound design establishes and supports the world of the play and brings in the unseen Aboriginal people who live on the land.
Kate Wyvill, the creative team, and the cast and crew have created a strong production which runs until 29 June at Brown’s Mart. Go and get yourself a ticket. I am now off to have a chat with Bessie the Boab tree (all will be revealed when you see the show).
4 stars: ★★★★
And I’m the Queen of Sheba
By Kate Wyvill
Presented by Brown’s Mart Productions and Sanity Productions
Director: Gail Evans
Dramaturg: Katherine Thomson
Indigenous Consultant: Noel Tovey AM
Cast: Nicola Bartlett, Frederick Copperwaite, George Shevtsov and Andrew Tighe
Brown’s Mart Theatre, Darwin
11 – 29 June 2019