24: Holy Day

14 Apr

I needed a stiff whisky when I finished reading Holy Day. Unfortunately, I was reading it on the bus on the way to work, so I had a long, dry day ahead of me.

Book in bus window

Andrew Bovell’s play is a grim indictment of Australia’s bloody history. Set in the mid-nineteenth century, somewhere in the Australian bush at the edge of the white frontier, Holy Day is a dark and terrifying play.

Nora runs a traveller’s rest with the help of her ‘adopted’ child, Obedience. Obedience is Aboriginal and was taken from her mother (rescued as Nora puts it) as a child. This is not a place for two women to live alone, and it is only thanks to Nora’s sharp tongue and willingness to prostitute herself that they survive.

A storm brews and into the menacing atmosphere come three men, bristling with violence and choking on secrets. When the missionary’s wife appears, covered in blood and saying that her baby has been taken, the storm erupts in every sense.

I can see parallels with Lantana and When the Rain Stops Falling (WtRSF): Bovell writes a mystery into his plays and builds suspense as you wait to uncover the truth (assuming there is such a thing). Holy Day lacks the intricate weaving of plots that set Lantana and WtRSF apart; instead it is sheer brutality that drives its story forward.

The Australia of Holy Day is a harsh country, peopled by the desperate and the damaged. When the local ‘blacks’ are blamed for the baby’s disappearance, you know that the reckoning will be terrible…and it is.

Publisher: Currency Press
Cast: 4M, 4F

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One Response to “24: Holy Day”

  1. Jo April 14, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    I remember so clearly taking my mother to see this when it was on at the STC. She didn’t see much theatre but loved Pamela Rabe so I took her along not knowing much about the play. I think Mum was terrified – it was dark, brutal, epic, just as you’ve described.

    Afterwards Mum told people she’d seen a play called ‘Holy Cow.’ Indeed.

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