As a piece of theatre, The Visitors is like Twelve Angry Men meets Waiting for Godot. Walter’s questions chip away at the men’s instincts to repel the visitors. Meanwhile, their ruminations delay decisive action. Action which we, the audience, with our 2020 hindsight, know won’t change anything, for all the while the boats get closer. While we wait, stories gradually emerge from each tribal representative, stories of past contact with the Europeans. Some encounters are harmless, some brutal, all of them defining moments for each individual. Through them, Harrison builds a complex web of personal and moral considerations.
The Visitors is a masterful study in suspense. It’s also a beautiful ensemble piece with the seven distinctive characters bouncing off each other in a carefully choreographed chorus of voices. The conversation does sometimes stumble, but there is a touching gap between ceremony and brotherhood, dignity and vulnerability. We get to know Walter (Leroy Parsons), the thinker, Jacob (John Blair), the joker and Lawrence (Kerri Simpson), the youngster with the worrying fever, as real people. And we grieve with warlike Gordon, a towering Damion Hunter, who bears the emotional brunt of the invasion and delivers the powerful final lines to a complicit audience.
I do not doubt that The Visitors will take its place alongside Stolen as a touchstone of Australian theatre, and as an essential part of the continuing struggle to make sense of colonisation and multigenerational trauma.
The Visitors runs in Sydney until January 26.