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Holy Day reflects on a brutal past

Theatre

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Is the past something you can leave behind?

Steeped in prejudice, accusation and intrigue, the University of Adelaide Theatre Guild’s production of Holy Day reflects a time in history governed by loss, hardship and uncertainty.

It is set in the Australian outback in the mid-19th century, when Australia was considered “England’s sewer”, placed at the end of the world and fit only for the disposal of convicts.

The story, by playwright Andrew Bovell, begins with a desperate plea for redemption from God. Missionary’s wife Elizabeth (Fiona Lardner) meets Irish woman Nora (Cate Rogers) at a travellers’ resting post, declaring that her husband has been murdered and her infant child stolen. Three travellers – Goundry (Brant Eustice), Epstein (Matt Houston) and Cornelius (Robert Bell) – also arrive, demanding food and shelter.

With the assistance of Nora’s daughter, Obedience (Carissa Lee), they call upon local property owner Wakefield (Steve Marvanek) to assist in the search for Elizabeth’s family. Obedience finds lone Aboriginal woman Linda (Nicolle Orr) at the watering hole and believes she has taken the baby.

A story of callous lies, possession and deception unfolds in this harsh and hostile landscape.

Director John Graham brings credibility to the back-story of these strained characters, with impressive use of the space giving authenticity to the stark wasteland setting. Normajeane Ohlsson’s set design is outstanding, supported by the lighting design of Richard Parkhill.

“You and I will be silent about what has passed, for what is not spoken will eventually fade,” says one of the characters. There is “no justice, only vengeance” in this memorable account of a time when fear, isolation and gross misuse of power prompted brutal acts of cruelty, survival and damnation.

This production by the Theatre Guild is unmistakably a team effort and deserves capacity audiences to experience the vivid account of a significant and critical part of our history, which should not be forgotten.

Holy Day is on at the Little Theatre, The Cloisters, Adelaide University, until October 19.

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