Reviews //

At What Cost? at Belvoir St Theatre

Director Nathan Maynard’s depictions of Country and competing histories was eye-opening, and inspired discussion during and after the show.

After its huge success last year, Trawlwoolway Pakana playwright Nathan Maynard’s At What Cost? returns to the stage for a national tour — first stop, Belvoir St Theatre. Set in Putalina Lutriuwita (otherwise known as Oyster Bay, Tasmania), At What Cost deals with intergenerational trauma and the displacement of Tasmania’s Aboriginal population.

The play revolves around Wiradjuri man Luke Carroll’s Boyd Mansell, a respected Palawa man and caretaker of Putalina. Boyd has been tasked with the safe return of William Lanne’s body to his ancestors. Lanne, also known as King Billy, was a whaler whose body was stolen and mutilated by Tasmanian Premier William Crowther who, during his career as an anthropologist, committed unethical acts with the corpses of Aboriginal people. 

The acting in At What Cost? was sensational, with Carroll delivering a standout performance. Sarah Greenwood — a Dunghutti, Gumbaynggirr and Bundjalung woman — as Boyd’s wife Nala was another highlight. The chemistry between the cast was spectacular and their ability to bring to life the characters and portray the complexity of the issues that arise from identity politics and cultural identity. Maynard’s writing was of the highest calibre, with hints of Blak humour and innuendos that would make the whole audience laugh. Carroll captivates the audience with his conviction, and silences the theatre with poignant depictions of strong themes such as genocide and trauma. 

During the show we are transported across three stage sets, courtesy of set designer Jacob Nash — the hut, the pyre and the stars. The entire stage emanates culture and Country. Lighting designer Chloe Ogilvie helped the audience to follow the story as it changed through the varied settings.

Director Isaac Drandic breathed visceral life into the trauma and history of First Nations peoples. The writing and acting resonate strongly with me as a Gooreng Gooreng, Dharug, Dhungutti and Tongan man. At What Cost? is a deeply personal and emotionally-driven journey through the dark and complex histories of First Nations people.

The play’s Sydney run closed on Sunday 21 May. It will then head to Queensland, South Australia, and finally finish in Tasmania.