I didn’t have the opportunity to see Hannie Rayson’s first play Life After George and I couldn’t be more disappointed, especially after seeing her latest play Inheritance.
Inheritance is a wonderful piece of work. It is a sensitive, tender play, witty and sophisticated at the same time. It is also a very deep piece of work which covers many of our Nations biggest issues. Rayson weaves so many controversies together in the one play; gender identity, women’s rights as land owners and the way they are viewed in a mans world, depression and suicide, city life versus life in the bush and one of Australia’s longest existing battles- Aboriginal land rights.
Inheritance is about rural Australia, which could only mean that it is a play about the land. It tells the story of five generations and just one farm. Twin sisters Girlie Delaney and Dibs Hamilton are preparing to celebrate their 80th birthday. The families are all gathered at ‘the farm’, Allandale, which Dibs had inherited from her mother.
As the story goes, Dibs and Girlie’s grandfather Jessie Allan, whose daughter married a man by the name of Norm Myrtle, founded Allandale. They had twin daughter’s Dibs and Girlie. Norm struggled with depression, he struggled with life until the day that he decided he couldn’t go on anymore, and hung himself. His body was found, hanging, by his daughters. The sisters settled the inheritance of the farm with the toss of a coin, which saw Dibs taking the farm, while Girlie was paid off with 10,000 pound. As the story continues we find out the Dibs children have no interest in running the farm, whereas Girlie’s son, Lyle does. He has been working at Allandale as a share farmer for many years.
The play opens as the sisters prepare for their birthday while the approaching death of Dibs’ husband, Farley, draws near. The family have gathered to begin dividing up the belongings. As the relations from the city begin to arrive, the strain begins to show. Most of the strain and stress revolves around the never answered and always burning question- who will get the farm.
One of Rayson’s greatest achievements, if not the greatest, is the way she is able to incorporate into her play pressing issues via the family’s sagas. The main theme of Inheritance is obviously ‘who gets the farm’?. Whose is the ownership of Allandale? Is it the person who holds the deed? The person who works the land? Perhaps the true and rightful owners of Allandale are the indigene from whose ancestors the land was taken from.
Inheritance combines straightforward narrative with layer upon layer of complexity and meaning. All the subtlety and mystic of the script is brought out by a magnificent cast and clear, strong directing.
Veteran actors Lois Ramsay and Monica Maughan head the cast as the twin sisters Dibs and Girlie. Ronald Falk plays Dibs’ dying husband, Farley, and together the three carry and anchor the play with their solid and strong portrayals of their characters.
Perfectly cast, and my personal favourite portrayal in the play, is Steve Bisley as Girlie’s son Lyle. I found his performance engaging in the way he played Lyle’s frustration and love for the land, all the while being cruel and unforgiving. Bisley is absolutely superb in one particular scene where a suicidal Lyle addresses the audience as one of Lyle’s sheep, dissecting and rejecting.
Playing Maureen, Lyle’s wife, is Geraldine Turner. Hr performance as a Pauline Hanson clone and follower is frightfully convincing. Maureen has and incredibly hard righteousness and an arrogance that had me wanting to rip her from the stage.
Phys McConnochiedoes well in the part of William, Dibs son. He plays a gay man whose values and contradictions greatly irritated me. The bush for William represents hard times, insult and abuse, yet he himself is equally capable of prejudice.
The deepest shock in Rayson’s play is centred on Wayne Blair’s character Nugget. The shock is not the fact that the adopted, Aboriginal son Nugget is actually Dibs’ husband, Farley’s, biological son, but the way and the degree that Nugget is rejected. He is Farley’s right hand man and the best farmer in the family, however a mixture of sexual jealousy and the down right racism that comes from Debs, see Nugget rejected and discriminated against. Blair’s performance as Nugget is outstanding and comes close to measuring up to Bisley’s portrayal of Lyle.
Simon Philips direction is straightforward, clear and strong. He maintains a good pace throughout the play and draws out strong characteristics and characterisations of each character.
Inheritance is a truly fantastic play, one I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend. Rayson has created a realistic world of family, life and human struggle that relates to people from the city as much as it does people whole live out in the country.
A captivating play that takes you on an emotional journey and keeps you thinking about some of the issues it tackled for days, Inheritance is a play not to be missed.