The multi award-winning drama by Northern Territory-based writer Mary Anne Butler is getting its Sydney debut under Offspring director Shannon Murphy
This play comes to us on the back of a sell-out season in Darwin and after winning both the 2016 Victorian Prize for Literature and the Victorian Premier’s Award for Drama.
It’s easy to see why.
Butler’s writing is poetic, evocative and muscular in a way rarely seen on Australian stages. No wonder its synopsis also features a glowing endorsement from The Secret River's playwright Andrew Bovell.
At first it seems a relatively simple three-hander. One night, on a track in the Central Desert outside of Alice Springs, a woman, Ash (Rarriwuy Hick) and her dog roll their truck off the road. Trapped upside down in the crushed wreckage, the only thing they can do is wait until help arrives.
Returning home from a stint in the mines, Ham (Ivan Donato) sees the truck’s skidmarks, and comes to investigate. Hauling Ash from the truck and patching up her injuries, the two have an instant and intense bond. But it’s not that simple. Waiting at home with dinner on the table and a big announcement to make is Ham’s wife, Mia (Sarah Enright).
While Ash and Ham wait for the ambulance to arrive from Alice Springs, she miscarries the baby Ham didn’t know they were having. Told via intersecting and beautifully-balanced monologues that flit between time and space, Butler’s language is vivid, visceral and spare, conjuring up the lonely, dusty, beautiful highways of the Northern Territory out of thin air and making each character’s anguish palpable and raw.
Director Shannon Murphy’s clever, stripped-back production makes this lyricism even more potent. It eschews a formal ‘set’, and each actor delivers their lines directly into hand-held microphones.
James Brown’s sound design is equally low fi and similarly powerful: a tray of scattered pebbles becomes the sound of Ham’s feet trudging through gravel to find Ash’s upturned car; popping bubble wrap recreates the crackling fire lit while they wait for the ambulance.
Performances are universally strong: Rarriwuy Hick, who appeared in The Golden Age at Sydney Theatre Company earlier this year, is charismatic as the tough-as-nails Ash, more concerned with the fate of her dog and her Doc Martens than her injuries. Ivan Donato is quieter but no less effective as the nuggety but gentle Ham, trapped in a marriage that is no longer working as it once did. Although Sarah Enright as Mia lacks the same chemistry with Donato, it’s impossible not to be moved by her stoicism as she endures the bloody trauma of her miscarriage alone.
A tiny gem, hewn from the vast landscape it so lovingly describes, Broken is highly recommended.