I often find theatre a lot more personal and thought-provoking than cinema since the actors are right there in front of you and as a result, you connect on a whole different level. Having said that, I don’t think I have ever watched a piece of theatre that personally spoke to me on the level of Facing Up.
I am the kind of person that gets really angry about political injustice. If a politician is doing something I think is wrong, I’m not frightened to call them out no matter what side of the political spectrum they are on. It’s for that reason I like artists that can be brutally honest about what has happened in the past and can educate for the future.
Lynden Nicholls is an artist that certainly does that with her new theatre piece titled Facing Up. The piece itself has a simple concept. Actor Martin Van De Wouw plays all Australia’s Prime Ministers, one at a time, from Edward Barton (1901) through to Anthony Albanese (2022).
Standing at a podium he reads a speech that best sums up each Prime Minister’s stance on indigenous affairs and welfare while around him two First Nation women, Trudy Fatnowna Edgeley and Zerene Jaadwa, react to the speeches with the general consensus of the First Nation’s people of that day.
The idea for Facing Up began when writer, director and producer, Nicholls had the idea to bring the famous Ballarat Prime Minister’s sculptures to life for a one-off event. Today, this powerful show travels in a bid to educate whoever sees it and it has now landed at Theatre Works in St Kilda.
I found that Facing Up has an enormous power to it and as I watched it, I found myself going through a range of emotions. The lines that the actors spoke took me on a journey, and above all, both educated me and spoke to me. It is impossible to hear what some of the Prime Ministers including Alfred Deakin and Tony Abbott have said about First Nations people without feeling extremely angry.
That educational process for me continued with the Q&A that follows the production each time the play is performed. Here, I learnt that Deakin’s ancestors were only made aware of what he said when they viewed Facing Up. It turns out they felt the same anger as me and have now lobbied to have Deakin’s name removed from all things named after him, including the famous university.
While Nicholls never meant for Facing Up to be political, the way she has written the production means that the words are what generates the thoughts and questions that people will find themselves pondering after watching the production. I get the feeling that those words not only have the power to make people think, but it will change the way some people will act going forward.
Not only do I recommend seeing Facing Up but I feel that this is a production that every young Australian must watch. No one has ever presented this part of Australian history in the way that Nicholls has. It is all laid out in such a simple fashion that even younger audience members will be able to take something away from it.
The power of this show is also enhanced by the passion of Trudy Fatnowna Edgeley and Zerene Jaadwa. Both put in heartfelt performance which you can see from the tears in their eyes and hear through emotion in their voices, especially during some of the more moving parts of the production.
Martin Van De Wouw does an amazing job and credit must be paid for the fact that while not putting on silly voices or mimicking any of the Prime Ministers, you really get a feel for each character that he plays. For example, his ‘uncomfortable’ nature of Scott Morrison accidentally demolishing the work that Edgeley and Jaadwa had done on the stage captured the character of the man to a tee.
If you do go to see Facing Up, my advice would be to stay for the Q&A, and if the production itself has raised any questions for you, don’t be afraid to ask because this is a unique experience that should not be missed.
Facing Up is playing at Theatre Works in Melbourne from the 3rd of May to the 13th.
For more information Facing Up and ticketing, visit: