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Wayne Blair. Image: Lisa Tomasetti

Remembering a broken nation

The Long Forgotten Dream,
H Lawrence Sumner's debut with Sydney Theatre Company, is a heartrending play about how the past always comes back

This article was first published by Sydney Theatre Company.

H Lawrence Sumner has been writing for decades. His film 49, which he wrote, directed and shot on a single camera, is a story about street gangs and revenge in South Australia. In 2018 he premiered The Hollow Queen, a play about a children’s author and a journalism student that takes a dark turn challenging Indigenous identity, exploitation, hypocrisy and loss (it later won the Lysicrates Prise). It’s Sumner’s breakdown of First Nations identity that keeps Australians talking about him, posing serious questions of identity that nudge at the boundaries of traditional theatre.

It's surprising to believe that his new work The Long Forgotten Dream will be his first with Sydney Theatre Company. The new play was enabled by the Company's Rough Drafts program, a week-long creative development opportunity that grants artists the time, space and stage to work on and present unscripted works.

How was the STC Rough Drafts program important to you?
Development opportunities are important because they offer writers a collaborative, professional environment in which to fail and fail big. To question your own writing in a room full of people who aren’t afraid to give you an answer is such a luxury. If you are willing to allow ruthless advice from actors and the director in the room, it can end up being the moment of critical mass for your play. It's the ignition point. The strength of the Rough Drafts process is that it is facilitated by a literary manager/dramaturg who fights for the writing.

Wayne Blair (forefront) and Director Neil Armfield (background). Image: Lisa Tomasetti

Melissa Jaffer, Ningali Lawford-Wolf and Jada Alberts. Image: Lisa Tomasetti

How does it feel to have Neil Armfield directing your show?
It’s in good hands. My favorite audience experience involved Neil and his direction of Steve Martin’s Picasso at The Lapin Agile. I feel flattered and honoured that both STC and Neil Armfield regard the piece so highly.

And Wayne Blair acting in it?
I was fairly stoked to receive a phone call from Wayne. I wrote the play imagining Wayne as the male lead. How surreal that this is now the case. Some of the extra grunt in the character came from Rough Drafts cast member Bruce Carter’s powerful voice. So my thanks go to Bruce as well.

Do you think enough is being done in the industry to bring diverse stories to the stage?
No. Not nearly enough. However, STC are making sure that diverse stories come from diverse voices. It’s one thing to write ‘about’ Aboriginal people. A totally different thing to include pieces by Aboriginal writers. With Kip Williams and the rest of STC there is a clear distinction between ‘speaking of’ and ‘speaking as’. Much love for that.

What do you hope audiences take away from your play?
This piece offers an opinion on our brokenness as a nation. It looks at who we are, where we came from and what we did to those who simply wanted to fall in love.

I want the audience to walk out with love and light in their hearts. 

Composer William Barton. Image: Lisa Tomasetti

Wesley Patten and Jada Alberts reach out. Image: Lisa Tomasetti

About the play

Jeremiah Tucker is in his mid 50s. He lives tucked away on the windswept coastline of South Australia's Coorong region. Lately, he's been having strange turns. He fears he might be sick. But is there something wrong with his mind or his heart?

His daughter Simone has just returned from a year overseas. She's been researching a PhD in archaeology and tracking down the stolen remains of King Tulla, her great-grandfather.

Having located the bones of their ancestor, Simone is now working with the local pastor to organise a formal welcome home for Tulla's remains. Jeremiah has been asked to speak over the bones but is resistant, terrified of stirring up painful events from the family's past. But in the small town where they live, the past is always present. It has never been laid to rest.

Sydney Theatre Company's The Long Forgotten Dream is in the Drama Theatre from Monday 23 July to Saturday 25 August.

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