A battle for the past

Wednesday, November 27, 1991

Sweetown
Red Shed Company
Directed by Cath McKinnon
Tuesday-Saturday until December 7 at Red Shed, 45 Cardwell St, Adelaide
Reviewed by Liam Mitchell

Red Shed has been entertaining Adelaide for five years with

original Australian theatre. Sweetown is certainly no exception. This is the third play written by Melissa Reeves and performed by the company.

Sweetown is a typical, small country town in the mid-1960s. Much like any other, it has its own school, local pub and social institutions — the Apex Club, the Country Women's Association and its own Historical Society.

Life is one of harmony and routine. But the harmony is shattered by the arrival of a couple of writers researching a book on Aboriginal burial sites.

This subject strikes a chord with some of the town's inhabitants, ringing a few bells in the back of people's minds, setting townsfolk pondering questions — why are there no Aborigines in the town? — and bringing back memories long since forgotten.

Sweetown has a dark past, which it has preferred to forget. But the discovery of an old set of stockade gate hinges stirs the memories and passions of the whole town, setting the scene for a struggle between those who want to remember and those who want to forget.

Sweetown is the story of a conservative society — of conservatising attitudes to change and recognition of errors. It is made very real by the portrayal of the characters — from the simple townsfolk, thoughtful and mindful (once they remember) of past errors, to the more authoritative figures, the police and the town's Historical Society, whose views are more in the line with maintaining the status quo.

It is the story of a clash of ideals and the fight waged to conservatise a society that is looking to change. It is the story of the strength of those who hold and exercise the political and ideological power, at least on a local level.

The play is a fascinating view of the conservative push within society and its effects and success in combating and demoralising forces for change. It is powerfully presented, with the characters played to perfection, and good technical work by the stage crew. It is a must for anyone interested in Australian history or Australian history as it is taught, or even just in a good piece of theatre.

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