Coming on the heels of National Reconciliation week, The Seven Stages of Grieving is a good reminder of the need for ongoing efforts at reconciliation, and for all non-Indigenous Australians to consider what steps they can take to help the effort. The government (especially the Liberals) have led an appalling example, in their Justin Bieber-like tendency to not do too well with apologies, but Kevin Rudd’s sorry speech in 2008 was a huge step in the right direction. But it is no good to say sorry and then forget, to shamelessly misquote the Beibs.
The Seven Stages of Grieving could have easily induced a lot of privileged white guilt among the audience at the Riverside Theatre last night, but Queensland actor Chenoa Deemal’s performance begins with such good humour and a cheeky delivery that we are charmed and entertained with only a smidge of guilt. The stories from the Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman play haven’t lost any impact: from white settlement to deaths in custody, to the stolen generation; the Indigenous community has suffered myriad losses at the hands of White Australia, but Deemal is still hopeful – even amidst the tears – for her deadly self and her culture.
Deemal arrives on a darkened stage and performs the updated play with a number of ritualistic elements that give us a short glimpse of the red earth and lives of the many characters that she embodies. Happily, still waking up black is a good thing, she assures us.
Times are definitely changing from when the play first appeared, and with these changes is a new black middle class, which has its own privileged among it. A concern from successful city-living Indigenous people now is often ‘am I black enough?’ This sentiment can be challenging for those Indigenous people who have no desire to make a political statement, but simply get on with their lives.
The issues that The 7 Stages of Grieving tackles are still a matter of urgency though when you consider the statistics; from expected life spans to incarceration to domestic violence to literacy, the numbers still reveal depressing realities in Aboriginal communities, so a lot of work still needs to be done to remedy these glaring faults.
The 7 Stages of Grieving is on at Riverside Parramatta until 10 June, for tickets see: https://riversideparramatta.com.au/show/the-7-stages-of-grieving/
Featuring: Chenoa Deemal
Creative/Technical Team: Jason Klarwein (director), Jessica Ross (designer), Daniel Anderson (lighting designer), Justin Harrison (sound & production designer).