East Timor: the survivors speak out
Speaking for the Dead
Performed at PICA, Perth, October 17
Review by Rebekah Honey
A group of people chatting inconsequentially was the deceptively mundane start to Speaking for the Dead. The audience sat patiently for a few minutes, wondering where this idle gossip would lead.
Bang! A hooded man raping a woman: the Portuguese and Indonesians raping East Timor. Suddenly the audience's polite interest is transformed. No longer idle spectators, they are overwhelmed by feelings of outrage and revulsion that will remain with them throughout the play and its aftermath.
A journey begins, taking us through the torture, brutality and violence that have characterised the experience of the East Timorese since the Indonesian invasion in 1975.
The Hayman Theatre's production of Speaking for the Dead, written by Tony Nicholls and directed by Barbara Dennis, provided a fine balance of political information and evocative personal experience.
The audience was captivated by the cast of eight young actors, whose few slips failed to detract from the dramatic effect created by their stylistic performance.
The setting and costumes were basic and minimalist: the most prominent prop was a large map of Timor at the back of the stage. The simple costumes and props were cleverly manipulated to provide the audience with a glimpse of East Timorese life.
Relevant information about the origins and nature of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, as well as the responses of western governments, was presented in a vivid and accessible way. This information was interspersed and supplemented by personal testimonies which humanised the devastation and despair: a stark contrast to the glossy, impersonal information provided by mainstream media.
After two hours, the audience had begun to understand and vicariously experience the pain and hopelessness in East Timor under the brutal control of the Indonesian government. Intellectually and emotionally powerful, Speaking for the Dead was an experience not to be forgotten.