Nakkiah Lui’s play was born out of loss, love and anger. She describes This Heaven as her ‘Molotov cocktail. [She wants] to throw it and burn things down.’
Sitting in the Finborough’s intimate space, I can feel this anger throbbing in every word, but, sadly, the spark isn’t enough to ignite a fire. The play takes place in Mount Druitt, Australia, telling the story of an indigenous family. Sissy’s and Ducky’s father got arrested and died in custody at the police station. Instead of the justice they deserve, the family is offered $9000 for their silence. The play shows Sissy, a soon-to-be lawyer, turn her back on the law and take matters into her own hands, while Ducky battles with guilt and wants to physicalise his rage. Using their story they invite the people to voice their anger, and their riot quickly turns into a war.
This Heaven has some truly powerful moments; it succeeds at telling a personal story while keeping its themes universal. Injustice, loss, the oppression of the minority; these are things we can all identify with. Laced with beautiful Aboriginal legends, Lui’s writing brings the distant Australia extremely close.
The play, however, has its weaknesses. We barely ever get release from the tension as each scene demands our emotional response. Monologue after monologue, the actors need to deliver an overwhelming amount of words. It is simply just too much text, and it fills the production to the brim; director Laura McCluskey’s blocking aims to pair the descriptive monologues with movement to introduce some kind of mobility, but the actors just end up telling us what’s happening, occasionally miming to add emphasis. I found this approach a bit problematic, because it felt like the story was told to me, rather than showed; sure, putting the focus on the words is perfectly good, but in that case the added movement almost feels redundant.
The show is probably at its strongest in moments of stillness; for example, when a police officer finds Sissy holding a torch, or when Ducky recalls his father’s death. At moments like these, the play really comes to life. Bevan Celestine’s Ducky is heartfelt, explosive and raw, his anger placed somewhere between a young boy’s outburst and a fighter’s rage, while James Mack successfully makes officer Ryan relatable and human. However, for me, the show was stolen by Nicôle Lecky. She portrays Sissy with a grounded stillness, delivering each word with clear intention. To her and McCluskey’s credit, Sissy’s journey from obedient law student to almost animalistic rioter is believable and powerful, making the play easier to relate to.
This Heaven is a necessary play with relatable themes and some very powerful writing. I just wish I could have felt its flame.
This Heaven is playing at the Finborough Theatre until 19 September. For more information and tickets, see Finborough Theatre website. Photo by Finborough Theatre.