Belvoir, Sydney, April 24.
IT was all for the best, apparently, the practice of rounding up children and sending them as far away as possible to conditions of near slavery. Not being in any position to consent to the arrangement, the more than 3000 youngsters who came to Australia from the UK formed a second kind of stolen generation in this country, with all the attendant trauma. The last consignment arrived as recently as 1970.
In the past few years there have been attempts at reparation and the restoration of family ties, if such is possible. Those efforts provide the scaffolding for Forget Me Not, which is concerned with reaching to the heart of the considerable damage done.
Tom Holloway’s play, a co-commission between Sydney’s Belvoir and Liverpool’s Everyman and Playhouse, divides its time between Australia and the UK as deeply hurt and hostile Gerry (Colin Moody) is pushed towards discovering who he is. Gerry and his jittery, disaffected daughter Sally (Mandy McElhinney, wonderful as always) scrap constantly – as he says, he’s been a shitty father – and he’s only sketchily co-operative with Mark (Oscar Redding), who will arrange a possible reunion in Liverpool.
There’s no actor to touch Moody in conveying emotional fragility clothed in bloody-mindedness. The externals are there in the long unkempt hair and untidy, tightly sprung, restless body. His burning eyes, defensive language and occasional confidences do the rest. In one of Holloway’s most poignant touches, Gerry needs to be told where to sit whenever he’s in someone else’s space but makes a huge production of it at the same time. “You develop a thick skin,” says Gerry early on, but everything he says and does puts the lie to that. His is practically transparent.
Matching his incandescence is elderly Liverpudlian Mary (Eileen O’Brien), a tiny little thing blessed with courage, humour and resilience. Mary is Holloway’s shining jewel in Forget Me Not, fully realised and judged to perfection by O’Brien.
Holloway’s play is starkly written, often too much so. The language, with its frequent repetition of words and phrases designed to delay interaction, doesn’t always match the ferocity with which it’s delivered under Anthea Williams’s direction. More problematic, however, is the structure Holloway has chosen. It comes with a late twist that feels unsupported by what’s gone before.
Nevertheless, the essentials of this saddest of stories are powerfully conveyed. The more lasting memories of Forget Me Not will be Gerry’s rage, disgust and fear as he gulps down wine to anaesthetise himself. They will be of Mary’s glow as she finds a point of common memory with Gerry and her last-ditch stand to make sense of the senseless. And finally, they will be of the potential for healing.
Ends May 19.
This review first appeared in The Australian on April 26.