The Westlands, where home is a feeling, not a location
On the opening night of The Westlands, a new play directed by Michael Pigott, Sydney saw red due to numerous fires which spread rapidly throughout the day. It was an eerily poignant reminder of the harshness of Western Sydney, but also a chance to honour what makes this area of Sydney so unique.
Western Sydney, hell, anything considered "west" in Sydney without the word "inner" as a prefix, is often thought of as a vast no-man's-land of McMansions and a disenfranchised population of ethnic minorities living on streets named after the trees the councils cut down to build their kit homes on (ouch, that was harsh), and unsophisticated roughians with little to no appreciation for the finer things. But as The Westlands attempted to show (and achieved), the western suburbs is more than its stereotype, and its inhabitants mirror the heart and soul of all of us, regardless of where we come from.
The play opens with an Indigenous Australian's (played by Rhimi Dean) anger and grief about the changing nature of his home in The Westlands, and a British settler's (played by Shane Porteous) own definition of what The Westlands will offer people in generations to come. Through the words of Dale Turner's beautifully written script (Turner is also a poet, which is evident in the highly lyrical nature of the lines delivered by the performers), the play shows us different aspects of The Westland's residents, from a young married couple recently arrived from a war-torn country (played by Olga Assabgy and Craig Menaud) to another married couple (played by Lucy Miller and James Lugton) coming to grips with the loss of their son. It touches on the idea of building a home and keeping your home safe, and the changing nature of the area's population.
The ensemble cast worked well together and the mix of both emerging and established talent was put to good use. They were able to bring out the warmth as well as the weighty moments of the play with ease.
As someone who moved to the Sydney's western suburbs (Parramatta, initially) as a young child from overseas, so many elements of The Westlands hit home for me. That the play was staged minutes from the Town Hall where my family and I were granted Australian citizenship was heart-warming, especially through the naturalisation and citizenship scene. It's a credit to the True West season at Riverside that these performances are accessible for those, like me, who want more stories about other parts of Sydney.
But that's not to say this play can't be enjoyed by everyone. At its heart, The Westlands is about your own interpretation of home. It's about new settlers, old settlers and original owners. It's about the warmth you feel for the city you love, and, while Sydney was burning around us, it showed us the importance of keeping these stories alive, before they are lost in the smoke and ash.
The Westlands was produced by the Weatherboard Theatre Company, directed by Michael Pigott and written by Dale Turner.
Cast members are: Shane Porteous, Tiriel Mora, Craig Menaud, Lucy Miller, James Lugton, Rhimi Dean, Olga Assabgy, Patrick Trumper