While its heavy subject matter could see Brothers Wreck sink to dark depths, this performance shines a light on the importance of love, communication and support in times of trouble.
Our players enter the stage to a rousing and positive soundtrack, all taking part in vignettes of leisurely life; romance, fishing, time with friends, dancing on one’s own. It ends speedily though, as it emerges that Joe, a cousin and friend of these characters has taken his life.
It’s a fast transition from pleasure to pain, and one that the audience can sense is coming, yet it is harrowing. We hardly know these characters, but we know their pain so quickly.
From there, Brothers Wreck could easily fall into a dark well of anger, self-loathing and guilt, but it keeps a light shining throughout. This family, shattered by a tragic event, and pressed by the ongoing trials of their lives (a sick mother, run ins with the police) are resilient and tight knit.
Ruben (Dion Williams) outwardly expresses his pain more than the rest, and he is our focus throughout. Resonating with anger, he seethes through sessions with his counsellor David (Trevor Jamieson) and harshly rebuffs his family and friends’ care. Failing to rein in his anger, he is only pulled into line by Aunty Petra (Lisa Flanagan), who has her share of troubles, but remains an anchor for the family in their time of need with her warmth, strength and comic relief.
It all takes place during Darwin’s wet season as tempest outside mirrors the storm within our characters, Ruben in particular. Some of Brothers Wreck’s most evocative scenes come to pass when rain pours down on the set’s plastic sheeting, creeping in through doorways, or preventing the cast from leaving the stage.
The set itself, from designer Dale Ferguson, is a canny creation, with plastic sheeting line the floor, walls and ceiling of the stage. Metal struts visible through the sheeting and doors spotted throughout evoke the compartments of our minds, where trauma is locked away or ready to return at a moment’s notice.
Jada Alberts wrote Brothers Wreck and in this co-production from Malthouse Theatre and State Theatre Company she directs too. At times the action and dialogue feels slightly off beat, which could be put down to that closeness, but the emotional honesty of this piece and overall performance makes the experience worthwhile.
While Brothers Wreck is a vital story about life in the Top End, it’s also a universal tale about the difficulty of grief and the power of love, memory and community to get us through the tough times.
Brothers Wreck continues at the Odeon Theatre until 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)