I first saw The 7 Stages of Grieving when it was presented at Metro Arts in 1995. It was an incredible production performed by Deborah Mailman, directed by Wesley Enoch and co-written by the two of them. I still remember moments of the production, can still hear Deb saying “Reckon it’s a silly nation” and can still feel the rawness I felt by the end. As if my chest had been scraped on the inside and my throat was choked with tears.
The play script is sparse as much of the production took place in action, projection and singing, but it still packs a punch. The book also contains interesting essays, histories, translations and timelines.
The 7 Stages of Grieving is a play about Indigenous identity in Australia, about this country’s history, and about grieving and reconciliation. It’s a one-woman show where the woman is not a particular character but a story-teller and every Indigenous woman. She shares the griefs and joys, tells the story of Daniel Yocke (or Yock as it is more often spelled), an Aboriginal young man who died sometime between being arrested by police and arriving at the Brisbane City Watchhouse in 1993.
This is rousing, moving, heart-breaking theatre. The script is broken into short sections, each with its own title. Some are funny, some are wordless and some are tragic. I loved Invasion Poem, which is rich with images. Instead of thinking of the narrator of this one as one particular woman, think of her as Aboriginal culture, or perhaps land. That makes lines like the following easier to understand:
They broke from our soft
One took a handful of my hair and led my head to their knee.
Another washed his face in my blood.
Together they ploughed my feet. My feet.
My children, stolen away to a safe place,
Were wrenched from familiar arms and
Forced to feed upon another tongue.
For me, one of the most beautiful stories is of Aunty Grace who comes to the narrator’s grandmother’s funeral. Everyone thinks she’s stuck up. She’s been gone for years after marrying an Englishman after WWII.
For some reason she didn’t stay, which in my family is strange. […] Nana used to say, “Just when all our men were coming home and we had our share to bury too, she upped and left us. The Black Princess sipping tea with the Queen. Now I’m a Christian woman and I forgive her but … No more. No more talkin of her.”
The narrator tells how she drove Aunty Grace out to the cemetery on the way to the airport, how no one else from the family came to see her off, how Aunty Grace sat at the graveside for a long time and then took her suitcase, threw out the contents and filled it with red earth from the grave. Crying, at last, crying.
The 7 Stages of Grieving is a beautiful play on stage and on the page. It’s a generous gift that allows non-Indigenous audiences to feel something of what our Indigenous neighbours, friends and co-workers experience constantly.
Publisher: Playlab Press