The Return brings dark and sobering truths to light

Kaylah Joelle Baker

Malthouse Theatre and the RISING are coming together to co-commission the world premiere of Torres Strait Islander playwright John Harvey’s production The Return.

Co-directed by Yorta Yorta man Jason Tamiru and Malthouse Theatre artistic director Matthew Lutton, the production is inspired by Mr Tamiru’s experiences as a repatriation worker.

Exploring the injustices of First Peoples’ remains being locked away in museums, on display at universities, hoarded or stolen, Harvey’s production questions why they still have no rightful resting place.

“The inhumane practice of removing our people from country for research and curiosity has brought much trauma and pain to my people and country,” Mr Tamiru said.

“Bringing our people back home to country helps to heal the planet and allows our ancestors to reset their journey to the spirit world; Yurratha, Woka, Biyala, Wala [Sky, Land, Tree, Water, Dreaming].”

The story, which spans more than 250 years, is centred around the three intersecting narratives of a repatriation officer, a museum curator and a bone collector.

With a First Nations cast at the forefront of telling the story, many revelations are to be made.

Playing the part of Jackson, actor Guy Simon said the play followed his character as he started his new role of working at a museum only for things to not be as they once seemed.

“As the play goes forward, he starts to encounter these dreams, truths and hallucinations that start to become more and more as he goes deeper and deeper into the museum,” Mr Simon said.

“It is then that he encounters a lot of dark and sobering truths.”

Drawn to the role the more he thought about it, Mr Simon clearly recalls what made him realise how important this story was to tell when he watched a non-indigenous person trace back their history on the genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are?

“It got me thinking about me as an indigenous person and how if I traced back my sixth great grandmother it’s very possible she would also be in England but in a museum in a back room, in a box and gathering dust,” he said.

 

It got me thinking a lot about human rights and why is it that when we pass away they get taken away from us. It should be in your human right to be given a proper burial with your people and on your country.

 

Alongside Guy Simon, performers Jimi Bani, Ghenoa Gela, Damion Hunter, Angelica Lockyer and Laila Thaker will also be onstage to share in speaking up for First Nations people.

In discussing the behind-the-scenes, Mr Simon said the cast had also been allowed into creative and collaborative conversations about how the stories were being told.

“There have been conversations about how we go about touching on these very traumatic injustices that have happened to our people not that long ago and how we tell and depict these stories on stage and honour the venom behind these injustices without digging up more trauma,” he said.

Remaining open with one another through the process, Mr Simon said the rehearsals had been going great and they were now “running and sprinting with it” ahead of their preview night on May 13.

The official opening night for The Return will take place at 6.30pm on May 18 at Malthouse’s Merlyn Theatre with the production wrapping up on June 4.

The production will also run in the lead up to Melbourne’s RISING festival which takes place from June 1 to 12.

The festival has been three years in the making and is a surge of art, music, performance and ceremony in the heart of Melbourne, and RISING’s co-artistic director Gideon Obarzanek is “thrilled to be presenting” The Return.

“RISING is defined by stories of place and stories that explore our past, present and future,” he said.

“And this epic production, spanning 250 years uncovers vital and uncomfortable truths in its telling of a shameful piece of our past, and the ongoing fight for healing.” •

malthousetheatre.com.au

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