The Season – Sydney Festival

Nathan Maynard’s The Season is a wonderfully authentic new Australian work, celebrating tradition without overlooking the challenges often associated with preserving heritage. Set on Dog Island in the Bass Strait, the play is a powerfully honest look at a family who, throughout  birding season, learn about themselves, their relatives and the strength of their shared bond.

Tammy Anderson, Kelton Pell, Luke Carroll, Lisa Maza, James Slee, Nazaree Dickerson. Photo by Prudence Upton

There are, strategically, no walls on Richard Roberts’ minimalist and highly stylised stage at the Drama Theatre. Indoors spills into outdoors and the closer you sit, the more you are able to appreciate the physical demands of the steeply raked stage.  It conjures a peaceful sense of the island and of a tradition as old and ingrained in Tasmanian life and culture as the Aboriginal people, and we instantly understand that our family, the Duncans, are very much at one with the land.

The show opens with silhouettes, their arms up in the air, welcoming the birds. It is a surprisingly powerful image that realises its full beauty at the end of the play where director Isaac Drandic reprises the motion;  it’s a reminder to the audience of the value of this tradition and the roots that this family has in the land. The birds, like the Duncans, come and go throughout the year, but every year they will be welcomed back again.

But constancy doesn’t rule out change.  Technological advancements threaten the sanctity of tradition to Ben (Kelton Pell), the family patriarch, who values manual labour over technical shortcuts. He’s constantly aware of his own mortality and obsolescence. His wife Stella (Tammy Anderson) also feels the pressure of this tradition; she insists it won’t be their last birding season, but she still distributes both wisdom and special possessions to members of her family as though in farewell.

This  is the first time Stella and Ben’s daughter Lou (Nazaree Dickerson) has been back to the island for the birding season in over 15 years. With her is her teenage son Clay (James Slee) who has been raised in a less traditional setting; and the family is worried he’s growing up distanced from the mob..

Luke Carroll, Kelton Pell, Trevor Jamieson, James Slee. Photo by Prudence Upton.

For Lou’s brother Ritchie (Luke Carroll), this season is perhaps his most important yet as he strives to prove his abilities and knowledge as a birder and as the future head of the family.

Rounding out the family is Marlene (Lisa Maza), Stella’s sister, who plays the role of the fun-loving aunt. Despite her humour, Maza makes it clear that Marlene  is  holding heavy and painful secrets and has been for many seasons; she will confront them this year.

The cast is extraordinarily hard-working throughout this one act play, both physically (running up hill, waving hefty hessian bags) and emotionally. Each offer truthful and honest performances and come together to form a highly realistic and familiar family.

Maynard’s script  is delightfully Aussie –  embedded with Indigenous references and some wonderful slaps at the whiteness that prevails in today’s Australia. . It is a story of culture and of the depths of family.

Drandic and Roberts have created a stunning piece of theatre with a wonderfully strong sense of design. Their  decision to represent the birds through cloth was clean and stylish. His direction of the actors led them to overcome the initial stagger of dialogue and to findtheir points of comfort on stage, ensuring the essential elements of the story came through with great vigour.

The Season is a wonderful addition to the Sydney Festival line-up this year and it is my sincere hope that Tasmania Performs considers a longer Sydney run – it is a play that should be shared with many!

Cassie Tongue

Cassie is a theatre critic and arts writer in Sydney, and is the deputy editor of AussieTheatre. She has written for The Guardian, Time Out Sydney, Daily Review, and BroadwayWorld Australia. She is a voter for the Sydney Theatre Awards.

Cassie Tongue

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