I have a had a life-long love of the arts; enjoying theatre, ballet, art and movies. We are all time poor and have limits to our entertainment budget so I hope an honest review will help make your choices easier.
A moving tribute to child lost and a family shattered
Letters to Lindy is based on a story most Australians will be, at the least, familiar with. The tale starts in August 1980, when two-month-old Azaria Chamberlain lost her life and her mother Lindy raised the alarm with those chilling words "A dingo's got my baby". This moment was to trigger a rollercoaster of events that would see a nation divided, the Australian justice system brought into question, and most tragically a family destroyed.
Many of us are all too familiar with the details of this tragedy. One night, while the Chamberlain family camped at Uluru, their two-month-old daughter Azaria, asleep in the tent, cried out. Lindy rose from the camp-fire and went to check on her. Five minutes later, Lindy called out for help - a dingo had her baby. Or did it?
Police would deduce that Lindy herself had murdered Azaria. Her motive? This was a cult sacrifice by a detached mother; the Chamberlain family were members of the then little known, Seventh Day Adventist Church and Lindy presented as unemotional and unmoved. Her opportunity? In a five minute window of time, it was claimed, Lindy took Azaria to the family car, cut her throat with nail scissors, and stuffed her body into a camera bag for later disposal. Was Azaria murdered by a dingo or her mother?
Thus began a twelve year journey of legal proceedings, media sensationalism and nationwide speculation. A line from the play comes to mind "everyone in Australia had an opinion - only three things have divided the nation in this way: conscription, Whitlam and Lindy Chamberlain's guilt or innocence". The family would be subjected to a protracted legal battle. The 1980 Coroner's inquest found in favour of the dingo story, only to be quashed by the supreme court. In 1982 Lindy was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. This conviction was overturned in 1986 when a missing piece of Azaria's clothing was found partially buried in a dingo lair.
Azaria's missing jacket - evidence to release her mother
Alongside the legal battle came the trial by media and a public response that fuelled rumours and prejudice - Lindy and her family were subjected to unimaginable trauma, and ultimately robbed of the opportunity to grieve the loss of their child and sister.
So if we know the story why go to the play? Well, I did ask this question myself, I also asked was I subjecting this family to more voyeuristic speculation by attending? The answer to both questions lay in the voice behind the play, that is, Lindy's voice. This is her story, based on her words and the thousands of letters she has received from the public since the death of Azaria.
The play cleverly weaves a tale around those letters and Lindy's story. Through the letters we unpack the questionable evidence used for conviction; though clear the conviction was circumstantial some of the mysteries of this case remained for me. Was there human interference with the evidence? Was the evidence deliberately mismanaged? Then we explore the divided public opinions, some letters packed with raw hate others filled with loving support. I was once again shocked by the level of emotion strangers had in relation to this case. We also get a glimpse at Lindy's character, her unwavering faith, stoic nature and dry sense of humour. This is a woman I would like to know personally. Most importantly, the letters and the play focus our attention back on the tragedy of a baby's death and a families pain.
As I watched this two-hour production, I felt the full gamut of emotions that this story has always evoked in me. Grief for the loss of an innocent, fear for how a single moment can irrevocably change your life, shock at the power of the media to sell a narrative and define a nations views, stunned by the reality of a justice system which can be as blatantly flawed and biased as the people who administer it, and saddened by the capacity for people to form strong convictions on second-hand information, and then for some to feel so enraged the react with aggression.
The performance was both entertaining and informative and delivered with an underlying humour which proved to be a well-constructed relief to an emotional journey.