Review | ‘York’ is an outstanding statement from Black Swan


York | State Theatre Centre | Until 1 August | ★ ★ ★ ★ ½

York is an captivating and intriguing theatrical experience that uses innovative storytelling techniques to deliver a powerful lesson. 

The new work from writers Chris Isaacs and Ian Michaels takes on a journey through time, attitudes and societal values, while simultaneously delivering a bundle of laughs, more than a few frights, and an emotional punch. 

The stage is filled with an impressive three level set, that recreates the historical York hospital. First we meet a young lesbian couple who have just bought the abandoned building with dreams of converting it into their dream home. Soon they discover that things aren’t right and there’s some spooky moments.


Next we travel back to 1985 and the building is a hostel, hired out by a cub scout troop for the weekend. The kids lament that they’re missing the first Australia Day Sky Show, and they’re under the watchful eye of two leaders, again mysterious things are happening in the space. During this sequence one of the kids utters a racial slur, something commonly said in the mid-1980s but it makes the audience flinch.

Later we travel back to the turn of the century, the hospital is filled with nurses treating shell-shocked soldiers. Into the building comes an Aboriginal man, seeking help for son who is ill. The nurses scold him for being off the mission without a pass. Their attitudes, unquestioned at the time, are filled with overt racism and disrespect. Not only have we changed times, but also genres, gone are the laughs, and the jump-out-of-your-seat moments. The story has morphed into a suspenseful drama.

Finally we time-travel once more, to the arrival of European settlers, a time when unexpected and strange people appeared on on the Derbarl Yerrigan. Here the cast members stand across the front of the stage and deliver a series of powerful monologues, a entrancing moment of storytelling.

York is a wonderful theatrical experience, one that embraces and makes the most of the theatre’s ability to allow us to tell stories in a unique and exciting way. It traverses not only historical periods, but also skips across genres and narrative conventions. It takes us on a mighty journey a through time, attitudes and culture.

The production is also a collaboration between Black Swan State Theatre and the wonderful WA Youth Theatre Company, giving some young actors the experience of working in a full production on the Heath Ledger Theatre’s stage.

Originally Wentworth star Shareena Clanton was set to appear in the play, but regrettably she suffered an injury during rehearsals and was forced to withdraw. Instead her twin sister Shakira Clanton has stepped up and quickly learned the part. Like all the actors in this production, she skillfully takes on multiple roles.

She’s joined by Isaac Diamond, Ben Mortley, Sophie Quin and Elise Wilson, while twins Benjamin and Jacob Narkle take turns playing roles on alternate performances.

Jo Morris delivers the majority of the laughs playing Shauna, a wacky neighbour in the present day, Sharon Potts, a whistle blowing cub leader, and law abiding nurse Sian Lang. Alison Van Reeken inhabits the stern Matron Roslyn Bell, alongside several smaller parts.

The highlight of the journey is the powerful monologue delivered by Maitland Schnaars. He portrays several different roles through the tale, but it reaches a crescendo with his stark and brutal truth-telling monologue.

There were moments on opening night where the audiences laughter drowned out some of the lines, the actors hopefully will be come accustomed to the required timing as the season progresses. Occasionally the comedy of the work seems grating against the play’s more dramatic moments.

The production has been a labour of love for many years, a collaboration between one white writer, Isaacs, and one indigenous writer, Michaels. Similarly the production has the unusual staffing of co-directors, Black Swan’s Artistic Director Clare Watson and Ian Wilkes a Noongar man of the Wadjuk and Balladong people. The cast and creatives have clearly been taken on a powerful journey together, and you can;t help but wonder what the experience may generate in the future.

The strength of York is its power to show us how far reconciliation and understanding has advanced it recent years, while simultaneously showing us how far we still have to travel. Before we can tackle the challenges, first we must remember. This is a play that informs us that incidents that may have been hundreds of years ago – are still fresh today.

York from Black Swan State Theatre Company is playing at the State Theatre Centre until 1st August. New tickets have just been released.

Graeme Watson 

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