Actors Nathaniel Dean, Shaka Cook, Marcus Corowa rehearse a scene from The Secret River.
AS the sun sets over Anstey Hill Quarry on Tuesday night, the “curtain’’ will rise on the first of this year’s Adelaide Festival shows, The Secret River.
State Theatre Company’s new production of the Andrew Bovell play, based on Kate Grenville’s best-selling novel, will begin preview performances in the former quarry ahead of Thursday’s official opening night.
The Secret River has already broken box office records for State Theatre as the highest-grossing and fastest-selling show in the company’s history, passing the $428,000 mark set by The 39 Steps last year.
Festival artistic director Neil Armfield, who is also directing The Secret River, said the play took on new dimensions in the former quarry setting, which was last used to stage Peter Brook’s iconic version of The Mahabharata in 1988.
“It’s met my expectations and exceeded them, because all sorts of things become powerful in a way that you can’t really predict,’’ Mr Armfield said after Sunday’s dress rehearsal.
Anstey Hill Quarry has provided an ideal setting for the first Adelaide Festival show The Secret River.
“You have this beautiful, scenic sense of procession coming from deep across the rock and the natural drama of the cliff.’’
The play tells of two families — one white colonial settlers, the other indigenous Dharug people from the Hawkesbury River region — who are divided by culture and land.
WA’s Ningali Lawford-Wolf is the play’s narrator and river spirit, while Nathaniel Dean from TV’s Wild Boys and Bikie Wars stars as convict William Thornhill, alongside a cast that includes iconic Australian actors Bruce Spence and Richard Piper.
Nathaniel Dean and Georgia Adamson performing during The Secret River at Anstey Hill Quarry. Picture: Shane Reid Source:Supplied
The Secret River was originally directed by Mr Armfield and staged by Sydney Theatre Company in 2013, winning six Helpmann Awards including best play, best new Australian work and best director.
“We’ve had to make certain shifts to the staging because we don’t have the fly tower above the stage … but that’s actually made the whole production feel more handmade, which is very much the aesthetic anyway,’’ he said.
“In a sense, it’s made it a bit more pure.’’
Mr Armfield said a koala had also taken up residence in one of the trees above the stage.
“I don’t know what he’s making of the whole thing, but he’s been there for the past few days.’’
Limited seats are still available for most performances of The Secret River, which runs until the end of the Festival on March 19.