Daniel Nelson

A black man dies in police custody, where he had gone to see his son, detained for an alleged driving offence. The inquiry into his death clears a policeman alleged to have beaten him.

To add insult to injury, the inquiry orders the payment of a derisory amount of compensation to the family.

Anger erupts in the community, escalating into a violent clash with the police.

The Finborough Theatre is certainly up-to-date with its production of This Heaven. But wait: the events on stage aren’t set in the US. They are about an Australian Aboriginal family.

Playwright Nakkiah Lui says, “This show is for my family, in particular my nana, Joan Beale.” It’s specific, in that it’s part of centuries of killing and genocide by the continent’s white invaders. But the discrimination, the violence, the backlash could equally accurately be representing black lives that don’t matter in the US, or Indian mistreatment of Dallts or Botswana’s deadly squeeze of Kalahari Bushmen or the casual out-of-sight murders of Brazil’s indigenous peoples.

This Heaven burns with anger for its entire 90 minutes. Lui describes it as “my Molotov cocktail. I want to throw it and burn things down.”

It’s impossible not to share the rage and the frustration. Aborigine individuals and communities are outnumbered and powerless, and like the dead man’s family in this story have few choices, all of them unsatisfactory: stoic resistance in an attempt to avoid being completely destroyed (“They got your father. They’ll get you. I can’t let that happen.”), violence that’s almost certain to end in self-destruction (“This isn’t a war, Sisi. We are not equal.”), and trying to change the oppressors from within (“I don’t believe in the law any more.”).

The most painful part of this superb high-intensity production is watching the family members tear themselves apart as they struggle to formulate a response to the gunjis.

Lui has said that her nana never lost the capacity for love: ”And for me, in the midst of tragedy, that’s the one thing that gives hope. Through all the viciousness, hate and apathy, we can love. We can love.”

I love the sentiment, but watching events unfold on stage my predominant feeling was a sense of helplessness in the face of overwhelming odds. My only glimmer of hope was not about love, but about the need to keep pressing, lobbying, campaigning, about practicalities such as police training (must they always come down so heavily on the side of the status quo?).

Well worth staging, well worth seeing.


·         This Heaven is at the Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, SW10, until 15 September

This Heaven

This Heaven

Image by Finborough Theatre

. Info: admin@finboroughtheatre.co.uk/ www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk

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