Sometimes you see a play where the facts of its narrative defy belief. ‘Kill the Messenger’ is one of those plays, except the facts are indisputably true. Written and told by Nukkiah Lui, ‘Kill the Messenger’ explores institutionalised racism and the deaths of two people ignored by the system.
This is powerfully driven home in the story of Paul, who died riddled with terminal cancer but untreated in hospital and Lui’s grandmother, victim of a termite infested commission house and eventually injured through its neglect and deterioration.
Lui was convinced by director, Anthea Williams, to play herself in the production. That’s not an easy task and made all the harder for the writer to live through the experience of your world in the makeshift reality of the stage. But Lui does it very well and her humour keeps the mood light so she can punch the message out when needed.
Some of those moments are in the scenes with Paul (Lasarus Ratuere) and his sister Harley (Katie Beckett) as he strips her home of goods to feed his drug addiction. But it is in the interactions between Lui and Peter (Sam O’Sullivan) where her anger of the dichotomy of their experiences is given focus and those between Paul and Lui unfold like ghost scenes and are beautifully crafted and reminiscent of ‘Conversations with the Dead’.
Ralph Myers design allows for a square of light and two large projection screens to endow the narrative with an authenticity and simplicity so as not to overpower the storytelling but make the images we witness bold and direct. Katie Sfetkidis’ lighting is integral to that, creating a box that allows us to compartmentalise the interactions and issues that arise.
It is a reminder how much we, as a primarily middle-class white audience, take basic services and care for granted. Complaints are often not treated as suspicious nor as irrelevant and so it is a wake-up call to us, in the comfort of a society geared towards telling our stories and catering for our needs, that this is not the truth for all.
Lui tells us this play has no ending because the issues stay unresolved. This is a well-crafted play to recognise that the structure should mirror the content. It’s an example of contemporary black theatre and stories that need to be told and need to be seen. Whilst it’s easy to dismiss older Indigenous plays as historical, there is no escaping the immediate relevance of ‘Kill the Messenger’.
As Lui says at the end of the play, ‘I wrote this for you. Especially for you. Just for you. I’m standing here, in front of you, and I say please, listen.’ It doesn’t get much clearer than that.