A co-production between Queensland Theatre and Griffin Theatre Company, Meyne Wyatt’s unflinching, unapologetic, and unforgettable debut play made its world premiere to a well-deserved standing ovation.
City of Gold, written by and starring Meyne Wyatt, tells the story of Breythe, a young man from Kalgoorlie striving to make his way as an actor in the city but finding himself typecast as ‘the Indigenous actor’. With news of his father’s death, Breythe returns home to a hornets’ nest of family rivalries and racial tensions that explode into violence, visited by dreams and memories of his father as he struggles with personal and political issues. Thoughtfully directed by Queensland Theatre’s Resident Dramaturg Isaac Drandic, the play addresses racism in Australia outright and provides a sharp commentary on a wide range of issues, from Australian football culture to ideas of justice to the methamphetamine epidemic gripping towns across the country.
Maitland Schnaars and Meyne Wyatt in City of Gold. Photo © Stephen Henry
Meyne Wyatt was a riveting presence onstage, displaying incredible versatility and courage as he drew the audience into Breythe’s head and his struggles with guilt and grief, inspired by the playwright’s own lived experiences. Wyatt undoubtedly delivered some of the work’s most powerful moments in the raw, relentless monologue that opened the second act, addressing the audience directly.
Wyatt’s scenes with Maitland Schnaars, who played the role of Breythe’s father Byron, were particularly powerful. Schnaars brought a firm but gentle gravitas to the role, and his fits of coughing elicited genuine horror and fear. Schnaars also played the role of the messenger bird that appeared at key points throughout the work.
Jeremy Ambrum, Mathew Cooper, Shari Sebbens and Meyne Wyatt in City of Gold. Photo © Stephen Henry
Shari Sebbens gave an emotional performance as Carina, strong and steadfast, the oldest sibling and matriarch of the family in place of a mother who was often referred to but never seen. Jeremy Ambrum was entirely lovable as Cliffhanger, delivering a lot of the play’s humour, and Mathew Cooper gave an intense performance as volatile Mateo. The dynamic between the four young actors felt authentically familial as they taunted, fought with, and comforted each other by turns. Christopher Stollery and Anthony Standish also both played a variety of roles with commitment and conviction.
Set design by Simona Cosentini and Simone Tesorieri captured the sun-bleached exteriors and red dirt of small-town Western Australia, and the level of detail in their construction, from the corrugated iron roof to the rusted aircon unit and slamming screen door, was impeccable. The actors made full use of the space, utilising multiple entry and exit points to create a stage that was constantly in motion. The intimate setting of the Bille Brown Theatre brought audiences even closer to the action, emotion, and drama of the work. Costume design by Nathalie Ryner, lighting design by Jason Glenwright, and sound design by Tony Brumpton combined to transport the audience to the once-booming mining town of Kalgoorlie, the city of gold.
Jeremy Ambrum and Mathew Cooper in City of Gold. Photo © Stephen Henry
The script was not only full of biting social and political commentary, but also snappy comedy and clever word play, peppered with jokes that seemed specific to WA audiences but quickly drew everyone back in. The script interwove a deeply personal story of one family’s struggle with grief and the death of a loved one with the larger cultural narrative of Australian racism, systemic and ingrained, and the crossroads of young Indigenous people seeking to remain connected to tradition while simultaneously making their way in the modern world built by colonisers.
City of Gold is fast-paced and full of contrasts, a perfect tempest of heartbreak and rage, guilt and grief. This is contemporary Australian theatre at its finest – urgent, honest, and unmissable.
City of Gold is at the Bille Brown Theatre, Brisbane, until July 20
Following its season at the Bille Brown Theatre, City of Gold will play at SBW Stables Theatre, Sydney, July 26 – August 31