Tiddas: Sydney Festival Blak Out

Natasha Ciesielski
17th Jan 2024

Tiddas opens with the cast making their way to the stage carrying books, wine and a plate of sandwiches, chatting amongst themselves. It is a warm start setting the tone for a play about sisterhood.

Set in Bris-Vegas, Tiddas is the work of Indigenous author Anita Heiss, who has adapted her much-loved book to a screen-play. Heiss is an award-winning author of 24 books including her novel, Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray, which won the 2022 NSW Premier’s Indigenous Writer’s Prize.

Tidda is the Aboriginal word for sisters, and is colloquially used to refer to their female friends. It’s an apt title for the story of five childhood friends (three Indigenous and two white women) approaching 40, sharing the ups and downs of their lives during their book club meetings. Their chosen book leads to some awkward but frank conversations veering from abortion to in-fertility, careers to family. The sorts of conversations that ‘sisters and friends’ generally discuss.

Heiss has done a brilliant job providing rich characters full of personality and life. Ellen (played by Perry Mooney) is the sexually promiscuous single-gal, sharp in her delivery with witty one-liners, referring to cremations as barbecues and proudly shares her reno-dating (dating for the purpose of utilising her bed-friends trade skills) stories with the group.

Each month the women get together to discuss a book, although the chosen books tend to focus on Blak stories much to the chagrin of the writer of the group, Nadine. At the start of the play Nadine comes across as the successful white woman author, happily married to an Aboriginal man. As the play develops, Nadine becomes bitter and angry and it’s here the play becomes really interesting exploring alcoholism and interracial relationship differences. Louise Brehmer (who performed the role first at Brisbane’s La Boite Theatre in 2022) is powerful in this role, noting it was the challenge to play an alcoholic that appealed to her.

Each of the characters must battle with life’s challenges. Anna McMahon (playing Veronica) evolves from a loving mother betrayed by her husband, to a woman trying to find herself. Beautifully described by McMahon: “(Veronica) is a bird with a broken wing who by the end finds she can fly”.

Xanthe (Jade Lomas-Ronan) is desperate to be a mother, while Izzy (Lara Croydon) faces the decision of career versus motherhood.

Rounding out the cast is Sean Dow playing all five male parts and Roxanne McDonald as Grandma/Mum. McDonald is also Co-Director for Tiddas, along with Nadine McDonald-Dowd.

Grappling with the big issues, Tiddas also attempts to tackle the White/Blak divide in Australia, bringing the conversation to present day, questioning one of the women: “did you even vote yes?” A proud social activist Heiss encourages the audience to confront their views of Aboriginal stereotypes, cultural identity and flips the narrative noting: “We (Aboriginal people) don’t have the monopoly on dysfunction.”

Book lovers will swoon at Zoie Rouse’s set design of one giant floor to ceiling bookshelf filled with books and decorative objects. Rouse has also done a great job dressing the actors in clothing suitably reflecting each character’s personality.

I did feel there were too many short scenes sweeping through issues deserving of more depth. Perhaps the result of attempting to work a 350-page book into a 90-minute screenplay? However, this is a fabulous, fun and thought-provoking story with a cast of talented performers. Gather your Tiddas, your girlfriends, your sisters and go see this play. Four and a half stars.

Tiddas, part of Sydney Festival’s 2024 Blak Out program is playing now at Belvoir Theatre until 28 January. 

For tickets visit》 belvoir.com.au/productions/tiddas/