Flood – What lies beneath. (Theatre Review)
Lambert House Enterprises
Old 505 Theatre 8-19 November, You can grab your tickets here.
Images: Alexandra Nell
It is a perpetual bug bare of mine that white Australians think they can tell the story of those they seek to abuse – be they Australian indigenous people, asylum seekers, immigrants or people with disability – when what we need to tell each other is our own story of being abusers, not presume to understand the consequences of that which we inflict. While I applaud the spate of plays about asylum seekers this year, very few have examined what is wrong with white privilege culturally and why are we inflicting these miseries on other people with such a free and easy conscience. This, I think, needs to be examined far more regularly than it is attempted. This question is the focus of Chris Isaacs Flood, a very good play that looks at what might be motivating people when they act in aggressive and negative ways against people who are no threat to them.
Isaacs has tried to reach out to white folk. I must confess, in the wake of the U.S. elections, it is a naive attempt, but Isaacs clearly wrote from a happier time for the world. However, he is interested in the questions I was mulling over this year and his attempt to show white people lose when they denigrate and subjugate minority groups have value, especially when he tries to connect our collective white guilt to youth suicide. Isaacs gently explains Australian racism as a tragic accident that is the result of misinformation (another position that seems hopelessly naive in the wake of the U.S. elections) and makes a strong effort to link thoughtlessness with tragedy that affects our lives and culture. The days when we can indulge in the notion that sexism and racism are problems of misinformation are behind us now (yes, I truly believe that) but Isaacs message remains clear. When we white folk stomp all over another culture, we bring misery on all of us, not just those we’ve abused. Isaacs then makes a connection between our own suffering and that which we inflict.
This idea that we see the world through “white eyes” is exemplified though Stephanie Howe’s set design which places a whiteness over everything including the Australian Outback. It makes for a fascinating set, equally beautiful and eerie. The perspective whiteness is a little half-baked though. In trying to explain Australian racism as ignorance, Isaac’s removes many other aspects of our culture that reveal we operate under a strict and open prohibitive narrative, such as our deep-seated misogyny. The hate didn’t “happen” to us out of our misplaced actions, it was brought into the hallowed ground with us and in ignoring this the whiteness is an aesthetic variance rather than a carefully constructed regime intent on using the unaware for its own agenda. It helps that Isaacs makes Flood about young people; the Millennials that are supposedly so open minded still become powerless in the face of such a large oppressive system. If Chris Isaacs tells us anything in Flood, he makes it clear that “being a good person” at the level of day-to-day is a woefully ineffective defence against the broader system. Only taking responsibility for your own education can save you from the fate he suggests waits every white person.
Flood is skilfully and carefully directed by Charles Sanders who brings a confidence to the narrative that supports the very best intentions of Chis Isaacs. Casting is equally well intentioned and successful with each performer in the cast calling forth their very best for the production. Sanders has given the young people the confidence necessary to fully embody their roles and it is obvious that they explored their characters with great depth. Much has been made in the programming of Isaacs and Sanders Indigenous content consultancy, and it is worth noting that this acts as a suitable defence in any criticism that might come their way after treading on such sensitive territory. Still, what is overwhelmingly obvious to anyone who sees Flood, it is conversation and confrontation the makers are seeking to provoke and they do this very successfully.
With the gift of 20/20 hindsight it seems trying to gently help each other see where we are inappropriately affecting the lives of those around us is less important than working out how to conduct complicated arguments that give rise to heated anger, frustration and an intense drive toward self-defence or even self-preservation. Flood happened in Sydney in a complicated time. My own thoughts have become infinitely more complex in the week since I saw it. Its intellectual dexterity and subtlety have given way to its naivety and utopic idealism. However, it is an extremely good production that one week “after’ is a chance to provoke and draw out some important discussions.
Either way, Flood is a wonderful night at the theatre that you will not soon forget. It adds its voice to the wonderful year of theatre 2016 has been.