It’s been eight years since actor Meyne Wyatt grabbed Griffin audiences by the collective collar with his performance in Lachlan Philpott’s play Silent Disco.
He does it again now, even more forcibly this time, with his debut play, City of Gold, a ruefully funny, frequently scathing portrait of Australia as experienced by its First Nations peoples.
Kalgoorlie born and bred, Breythe (played by Wyatt) is a Wongi man and NIDA-trained actor drawn home by the untimely death of his father, Byron.
For Breythe, the “city of gold” hasn’t much lustre. He doesn’t come back here much and at first, it seems like nothing has changed since he escaped from it. If anything, the place is worse than ever, thanks to fly-in-fly-out mining culture, crystal meth and cops who are quick to reach for the baton and pepper spray.
Community tensions – always simmering – come to the boil when it becomes clear that Byron’s death is yet another case of institutional racism. Breythe, meanwhile, is compelled to take one for the family – who can’t pay for Byron’s funeral – and lend his face to a TV commercial he will find hard to live down.
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City of Gold is a complex depiction of a young man caught in a web of institutional racism and the contrasting expectations of his community and the arts and entertainment industry he love-hates.
How close this is to Wyatt’s lived experience is something I can’t comment on, but City of Gold feels completely charged with truth. The published script is dedicated to his late father, Brian, who would have been 68 this year. The play is also informed by the death of an Indigenous Kalgoorlie teenager in 2016 and the protests that followed.
Wyatt’s script combines piss-take humour, feisty family drama and scalding diatribe into a kinetic two hours expertly managed by director Isaac Drandic. The contrast between light and shade is jarring – purposefully so – but City of Gold maintains a tight narrative grip throughout. The final scene, daring for blunt finality, leaves you breathless.
Wyatt dominates the stage in a performance that showcases his very considerable range. A monologue delivered at the top of the second act hits you with point-blank force.
Breythe’s family is notably well-drawn, by Shari Sebbens as Breythe’s very together sister Carina, Mathew Cooper as the volatile Mateo (Breythe’s older brother), and Jeremy Aubrum as cousin Cliffhanger. Maitland Schnaars is every inch the stern patriarch as Byron, whose spirit haunts the play and whose we come to know just a little in flashback scenes.
Christopher Stollery and Anthony Standish contribute strongly with several less-than admirable white roles – the most damning being Stollery’s unbearably chummy TV commercial director.
Stormy in its moods and provocative in its observations, City of Gold is compelling and necessary theatre.