Sydney Festival Announces First Show of 2020

Sydney Festival Announces First Show of 2020

Sydney's pre-eminent summer event, Sydney Festival, has today announced the first show of its 2020 program; Black Cockatoo, a brave new Australian work and artistic collaboration between iconic screenwriter Geoffrey Atherden (Mother and Son, Babakiueria) and Sydney Festival's own Artistic Director Wesley Enoch.

Inspired by the true story of the legendary cricketer Johnny Mullagh and Australia's first ever international sporting team, Sydney Festival and Ensemble Theatre will collaborate for the first time to present a powerful story of resilience, resistance and inspiration.

Over 150 years ago, 13 Aboriginal men from country Victoria picked up their cricket bats and embarked on a remarkable voyage to England and into the unknown. They represented a nation in waiting that wouldn't recognise their rights – or even their humanity – for another century. Risking illness and persecution, the team amazed the English crowds with their astonishing talent, personality and grit. They should have returned to Australia as celebrated heroes. Instead they came back to find the world they once knew no longer existed.

The story begins in the present day, when a group of young activists sneak into the Wimmera Discovery Centre to expose the truth of what happened to Johnny and his teammates. At once funny and incredibly moving, a hidden legend of triumph and tragedy unfolds across the dusty paddocks of Australia to the immaculate greensward of Lord's in England.

"It's been great to bring Ensemble Theatre, Sydney Festival, Geoffrey Atherden and this incredible group of people together to premiere Black Cockatoo at Sydney Festival in 2020. For me, Black Cockatoo is talking about our rights as Aboriginal Australians. Yes, it's talking about a game we know very well, in fact taught to us by the colonists, but it is a significant moment in Australian sporting history that remains largely unacknowledged and unknown. It's fantastic to be working with the descendants of the First XI to help tell this important story" said director Wesley Enoch.

"Cricket brought the team to England but that's not what the story is about – it's the effect that travel had on the team, and particularly on one of the team members, Johnny Mullagh. The tour was a success contained within a tragedy: while the team were away, the authorities – who didn't want them to go in the first place – moved their people off their lands onto reserves and into mission stations. Johnny Mullagh is the only person on the team who didn't submit to that and stayed on his own lands" said playwright Geoffrey Atherden.

"Having presented three plays by the remarkable writer Geoffrey Atherden, I was intrigued when he told me of his idea about Johnny Mullagh, a proud Jadawadjali man from Western Victoria. I was fascinated by his story and thrilled at the prospect of realising this project with an all First Nations cast. These stories need to be told but they also need to be told by the right people. Geoffrey has closely collaborated with visionary director Wesley Enoch and Uncle Richard Kennedy, a Wotjobaluk traditional owner and descendant of First XI team member. With this team, I feel Johnny Mullagh's captivating and inspiring story is in the best creative hands" said Mark Kilmurry, Artistic Director of Ensemble Theatre.

Black Cockatoo is the seventh project Wesley Enoch has directed for Sydney Festival, following celebrated seasons of The Sunshine Club (2000), Eora Crossing (2004), The Sapphires (2005), Nargun and the Stars (2009), I Am Eora (2012) and Black Diggers (2014).

Now in its 44th year, Sydney Festival returns from 8–26 January to deliver the highest quality art and ideas across the entire city. The full Sydney Festival 2020 program will be announced on Wednesday 30 October.

Black Cockatoo
Ensemble Theatre
When 4 January – 8 February
Duration 90 mins (no interval)
Black Cockatoo is an Ensemble Theatre production in association with Sydney Festival.
Age recommendation: 12+
Content warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander audiences are advised that this show contains depictions of people who have passed away.
Black Cockatoo tickets will be available to Ensemble Theatre's subscribers from Tuesday 6 August at 9.30am: www.ensemble.com.au
Single tickets will go on sale through Sydney Festival on Thursday 31 October at 9am: www.sydneyfestival.org.au

Photo: Black Cockatoo / credit: Christian Trinder




MORE