Kill the Messenger, by Nakkiah Lui | Directed by Anthea Williams

Belvoir | Belvoir Upstairs, Surry Hills, Sydney | Until 8 March

This new drama comes at a time in Australian politics in which the Aboriginal issue is once again being used energetically in Parliament as a political football.  Rhetoric about closing the gap abounds. And if Nakkiah Lui’s play, Kill the Messenger is anything to go by, we are certainly not progressing. The gap is definitely not closing.

Major social and political issues are extensively explored in this important work — the struggle of young Indigenous men and women to cope with addiction, mental and physical illness, the welfare system and a younger generation struggling to retain its cultural identity, to name just a few.

But even though the subject matter is grim this is a most engaging and entertaining work. Nakkiah Lui plays herself on stage and she is at all times totally in possession of her performance, exploring all her own flaws with sympathy and discernment and managing to find humour in the darkest of situations.

Joining her on stage we have characters of enormous strength but with delicate hearts — Harley (Katie Beckett), the heartbroken female relative, Paul (Lasarus Ratuere), a young charismatic male possibly suffering from a mental illness, certainly suffering from a chronic physical illness, Peter (Sam O’Sullivan) Nakkiah’s middle-class, white boyfriend, and Alex (Matthew Backer) the nurse on duty in emergency on the night Paul died. This small cast all inhabits their characters with complete conviction and director Anthea Williams choreographs a clear message void of sentiment and cliché.

There is an equally impressive production team in the wings. Jada Alberts, author of the recent and notable play Brothers Wreck and an actress herself, is the dramaturg. Whilst Ralph Meyers’ spacious and deceptively simple stage design renders a stark setting, but also allows projected images of Lui’s grandmother and her home to be present on stage as required.

This is a powerful piece of writing offering both the personal and political urban Indigenous experience. In the Writer’s Note Lui’s rapid progression as a playwright is evident: “I wanted to tell truth. I wanted to be as honest as possible and I knew that would mean I would have to start with me.”

It is this honesty that has delivered this intelligent and beautifully crafted play, with an authentic, semi-autobiographical voice which respectfully endeavours to tell not only a current story but a historic story and so very sadly, probably an enduring story. Thumbs up!