Theatre | The 7 Stages of Grieving | Ken Longworth

PROFOUND: Chenoa Deemal in The 7 Stages of Grieving (with Grin and Tonic Theatre Company). Picture: Justin Harrison
PROFOUND: Chenoa Deemal in The 7 Stages of Grieving (with Grin and Tonic Theatre Company). Picture: Justin Harrison

ACTRESS Chenoa Deemal notes that she was very nervous the first time she appeared on stage in the renowned Australian play The 7 Stages of Grieving. She was the only performer in the work and had to hold the attention of audience members for 55 minutes.

But as reviews of the show have made clear, Deemal has done an outstanding job, having watchers laughing at one moment, then emotionally moved by her words and actions immediately after.

That production of The 7 Stages of Grieving was produced in Brisbane in 2015 by Queensland Theatre Company in association with the Grin and Tonic Theatre Troupe to mark the 20th anniversary of the show’s premiere. The show is now on a six-week tour of cities and towns in Victoria, NSW and Queensland, including a season at Newcastle’s Civic Playhouse from May 30 to June 3. It will then be staged at London’s Border Crossings’ Origins Festival, which celebrates the world’s indigenous cultures.

The 7 Stages of Grieving was put together by two Australian indigenous people, writer and director Wesley Enoch and actress Deborah Mailman. Its central character is an Aboriginal woman who attends the funeral of an aged female relative, with the others present reminding her of issues her people had faced in times past and in her lifetime. It looks at the lives of the tribes in the Aboriginal Dreamtime before the arrival of white settlers, the tribes’ traditions, the displacement of the indigenous people and the associated stolen generation, black deaths in custody and attempts at reconciliation.

While there is one central character, she often takes on the natures of those she is talking about, using very different voices and mannerisms. Chenoa Deemal said she’d never done a one-woman show before, but now felt very comfortable with it. And there had been several additions or changes to the end scenes, to take note of actions such as the Sorry March in 2000 as a symbol of reconciliation.

Deemal, who is a member of the Thitharr Warra clan on Cape York Peninsula, has been working as a professional actress since 2009, after doing an acting course at Queensland’s Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts. She subsequently received a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Acting) degree from Queensland University of Technology in 2014. She is full of praise for the director of The 7 Stages of Grieving, Jason Klarwein, and the background sound and video projections by Justin Harrison, both, like her, from indigenous backgrounds.

The show can be seen nightly at the Civic Playhouse from May 30 to  June 3 at 8pm, plus matinees on June 1 at 11am and May 3 at 2pm. Tickets: $25 to $45. Bookings: 4929 1977.