Wharf 1 Theatre, May 12


It comes like a punch in the guts, knocking the stuffing out of you, and as you sit there winded, Meyne Wyatt delivers the rest of his five-page monologue on the day-to-day realities of racism. Like Wyatt, his character, Breythe is an actor. “I just want to be seen for my talent, not my skin colour,” he tells us. “I hate being a token, a box to tick.” With Wyatt the actor delivering Wyatt the playwright’s speech, it’s almost as if he steps outside the play; shrugs Breythe aside and addresses us directly, so we’re caught in the headlights of his ferocious anger and crucifying satire.

Meyne Wyatt. Top: Trevor Ryan. Photos: Joseph Mayers.

He recounts the saga of AFL great Adam Goodes, who called out the racism he copped on the field and suffered accordingly. From his own arsenal of experiences Wyatt tells us of cabs slowing, seeing him, driving on. “The chips are already stacked against me,” he says. “And that’s why there’s one on my shoulder.” Then comes the line by which all artists should live: “I don’t wanna be what you want me to be. Never trade authenticity for approval.”

Not only does the speech keep detonating like a series of bomb-blasts, but the delivery is just as potent, Wyatt having a rare presence. The monologue begins Act Two, and director Shari Sebbens (for Sydney Theatre Company and Black Swan) has him on the roof of the house comprising Tyler Hill’s set, so it’s as if he’s haranguing us from atop a monstrous soapbox, his voice richly musical at as it rides the bucking melodies and harmonies of anger, pride, despair and hope.

No play can sustain such a pitch of intensity, but Act Two of City of Gold gives it a good shake, and the actors rise to it like so many boats on a swell. Most notably, Mathew Cooper’s performance as Breythe’s brother Mateo grew, Cooper shedding the awkwardness that had plagued him in Act One.

Meyne Wyatt and Ian Michael. Photos: Joseph Mayers.

I didn’t see the play’s first Sydney season at the Stables, so can’t compare. Wyatt and Cooper reprise their roles from that production, while Sebbens has moved from acting in it to directing this heavily autobiographical piece about a family gathering after the death of their father (an imposing Trevor Ryan). Simone Detourbet is effective as the brothers’ put-upon, no-nonsense sister, Carina, and Ian Michael rips us the role of Cliffhanger, the sibling’s deaf cousin. Completing the cast are St John Cowcher and Myles Pollard. They are all miked up, presumably to facilitate some sound effects added in the dream and memory sequences, but the volume could come down elsewhere.

Ultimately the production is not as assured as the play, from which Wyatt’s main points thrust like so many spear-tips. Among them is that, like being pregnant, you can’t be a little bit racist. More brutal is the point that Australia’s racism doesn’t change. The tone might, but not the fact, and that’s not enough to prove we’re on our way out of the tunnel. Indigenous people – “oxygen thieves” to some whites, Mateo tells us – continue to die in custody or on the streets, and the perpetrators continue to walk free, as if they’ve swatted so many flies. We’re in the midst of an election, and not a word is spoken on the issue. No votes; just the downside of aggravating the racists and their frightening cheer squad. There’s a legend that when they burned Joan of Arc, her heart didn’t burn. This play is like that.

Until June 11.