Actor Trevor Jamieson discusses the devastating real-life issues of the Malthouse/State Theatre Company co-production Brothers Wreck.
Brothers Wreck is Jada Alberts’ confronting story about grief, loss, resilience and finding the strength to reach out in times of distress, drawn from Alberts’ (Cleverman) upbringing in Darwin. Having debuted to high acclaim for Belvoir in 2014, Brothers Wreck is re-staged as a co-production from Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre and the State Theatre Company of South Australia, with Alberts directing her script.
Trevor Jamieson, a formidable performing talent, writer and dancer in his own stead, plays the counsellor in Brothers Wreck, tasked with the responsibility of helping a family come to terms with the grief of losing one of their sons to suicide. It is an emotionally taxing role to play, and for Jamieson it reflects some of his own life experiences.
He speaks from the heart on the topic of suicide. Rates in Australia’s Indigenous communities are morbidly high. He, like so many people across the country, has been touched by the effects of losing a loved one. He confides that he lost a cousin during the development stage of the production, which impacted him throughout the show’s preparation.
“Only just recently, I had a cousin of mine take her own life, and it really leaves something behind — the questions about what we can do to help… We’re coping. I’m going through counselling and I’m very glad the company, Malthouse, were able to access someone that we can talk to.”
Reflecting on his role in the play, Jamieson says that the show is not a simple rumination on tragedy and grief, but aims to highlight the importance of openness and communication between family, friends and community when it comes to mental health.
“[In my role] I know the family quite closely and everyone is affected by it, so it’s about trying to find how we can talk about it,” he says. “There are poignant moments and beauty [in Brothers Wreck] and it’s loving and it’s a bit funny, but the seriousness of it all is about what we actually do,” says Jamieson of the story. “How do we as a nation get together and help people in need with the whole suicide issue?”
It has been a journey for Jamieson to open up and talk about his own grief, he says. The taboo and culture of silence around the subject has in the past prevented him from seeking help for grief, but through this production has had the means and motivation to do so.
“Before I was so stubborn,” he says. “It’s a taboo issue and people don’t want to talk about it. I was one of those people and would put up certain defences, which is a normal human thing to do. But to step over that line and say, ‘Yeah mate, I need to understand the things that are happening. What do I do?,’ helps.”
The subject of Indigenous youth suicide is an emotional one for Jamieson. The issue is complex and hard to confront, he says, due to the long-term consequences of colonial dispossession and a lack of sense of belonging in contemporary Australian society for many Aboriginal people.
“We’re not part of the constitution, we’re not part of anything that represents purely Australian stuff because of the government,” Jamieson says. “You find a lot of these kids go, ‘What are we doing? Where can we go and find help? How do we balance our lives now?’
“They’re put in a rut, they get depressed, because they’ve tried to find out how to deal with it, then find it quite hard because sometimes we’re not a part of Australian society or white people’s lives.
“I find it pretty hard myself these days, and growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s was quite hard. We had our parents and grandparents push us into a day and age where we watch both worlds. A lot of it now seems to have slipped through our fingers, as we have the new generation taking their lives a lot these days.”
It’s a difficult topic to broach, but that’s what makes this sort of theatre incredibly valuable, says Jamieson. This is a topic that comfortable, urban-residing Australians need to see to better understand their country and their countrymen.
“I’m glad Jada Alberts, the writer and director, is bringing this to people,” he says. “And what better way than through theatre as a certain vehicle to bring it to communities. I can’t wait to see Adelaide audience reactions to this.
“Having someone like herself helps us understand the story is good. She’s going through to same thing, picking up the pieces as well. It’s very brave of her to write a piece like this as well, especially for us blackfellas.”
Wednesday, June 27 to Saturday, July 14
If you need someone to talk to, the following free services operate 24/7: Lifeline (13 11 14); Mental Health Emergency (13 14 65); Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800)
Header photo: Tim Grey