Tiddas - Belvoir St Theatre (NSW)
Reviewed by Claira Prider
Belvoir St Theatre
Playing until January 28th 2024
An entertaining exploration of a contemporary sisterhood and a great example of how sharing cultural stories can build community understanding
Referring to the Koori word for sisters, ‘tiddas’ describes a sense of sisterhood, not just between Aboriginal women, but the strong bonds of friendship and love that are formed between women over years of lived experiences. A page to stage adaptation of Anita Heiss’ 2014 novel, Tiddas, follows the friendships of five women, decades on from their days at Mudgee High School together.
Entering the theatre feels like being welcomed into a friend’s living room as a floor to ceiling bookcase fills the length of the back wall, brimming with books, ornaments, plants, lamps, cheezels and more. Half of the floor is made to look like floorboards inside the home, while the other half is green turf with a (small) life-size jacaranda tree in bloom. Jason Glenwright’s lighting helps to differentiate between time and location changes such as moonlight when Xanthe and Grandma stand outside under the tree, lamp light for cosy indoor scenes and bright warm lights for when Ellen’s outside on the park bench. Costume and set designer Zoe Rouse’s vision sees each character with a unique colour scheme to which their character adheres to through costume changes, each outfit aptly reflecting different characters’ personalities.
Photos by Stephen Wilson Barker
Addressing some deeply personal and political themes such as domestic abuse, aboriginality and reconciliation, intergenerational trauma, friendship, alcoholism and addiction, abortion, fertility and pregnancy loss, the work shows the women catching up monthly for book club at each other’s homes. Most of the characters are first nation and this performance injects some contemporary references (such as the 2023 Voice to Parliament Referendum) into the text. However the work felt one dimensional at times – possibly due to its attempt in addressing so many themes at once. A reference in the text that I found particularly interesting was when the cast discuss the difference between Indigenous, Aboriginal, black and Blak and what they like to be referred to as.
The on-stage chemistry took a while to warm up among the ensemble with much of the dialogue in the opening scenes feeling under-rehearsed and at times pushed, however they soon evolved into a well-paced and easy to watch cohort. By the end of the performance the friendship dynamics within the group had developed into a relatable and believable group as each characters’ story evolved.
All of the actors gave strong individual performances, each bringing personal depth to their stories even if it didn’t feel particularly harmonious overall. Louise Brehmer portrays the strongly opinionated, ignorant white woman who must hit rock bottom before she will look in the mirror and take responsibility for her actions with great believability. Lara Croydon gives a warm and relatable performance as Izzy, the ‘Australian Oprah wannabe’ who falls pregnant and grapples with the direction she wants her immediate future to take whether it’s career or family focussed. Jade Lomas-Ronan shines as Xanthe, giving a particularly moving delivery of a monologue about her desperate yearning to be a mother and the impact it has on every other aspect of her life. In the role of Veronica (the diligent and organised one) Anna McMahon is wholesome and likeable as she grows into an independent and effervescent character. Perry Mooney gets the laughs with her boy obsessed plot in the role of Ellen as she brings the most natural performance of the evening. Co-Director Roxanne McDonald plays a warm and gentle mum and grandma who’s totally lovable even when she expresses some outdated and damaging opinions. The cast is rounded out by Sean Dow who plays the man in each woman’s life – slipping between five different characters, he embodies the alternating characters brilliantly, providing great support to each of his on-stage partners.
Written by Anita Heiss and co-directed by Nadine McDonald-Dowd and Roxanne McDonald, Tiddas is an exciting co-production as a part of Sydney Festival between Queensland’s La Boite and Sydney’s Belvoir Street Theatre. Putting Black female stories at the forefront, Tiddas is an entertaining exploration of a contemporary sisterhood; long term friendship, cultural pride, reflection and reconciliation – a great example of how sharing cultural stories can build community understanding.
TIDDAS - CAST AND CREATIVES
ANITA HEISS. WRITER
NADINE MCDONALD-DOWD. CO-DIRECTOR
ROXANNE MCDONALD. CO-DIRECTOR
LOUISE BREHMER. NADINE
LARA CROYDON. IZZY
SEAN DOW. RICHARD, ASHER, SPENCER, CRAIG & RORY
JADE LOMAS-RONAN. XANTHE
ROXANNE MCDONALD. GRANDMA & MUM
ANNA MCMAHON. VERONICA
PERRY MOONEY. ELLEN
ZOE ROUSE. SET & COSTUME DESIGNER
GRACE DEACON. ASSOCIATE DESIGNER
JASON GLENWRIGHT. LIGHTING DESIGNER
WIL HUGHES. SOUND DESIGNER & COMPOSER
NIGEL POULTON. FIGHT & INTIMACY DIRECTOR
SHONA ERSKINE. PERFORMANCE PSYCHOLOGIST
LETETIA HARRIS. SONG LICENSE
MIA KANZAKI. STAGE MANAGER
INDIA LIVELY. ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER