Whitefella Yella Tree Review


Sometimes a show is just so good that it reminds you why you fell in love with theatre in the first place. Whitefella Yella Tree is such a show. 

Callan Purcell and Guy Simon in Whitefella Yella Tree, 2022. Photo: Brett Boardman ©

Two young boys meet under a lemon tree and there are sparks from the start. Callan Purcell as Ty and the ever-wonderful Guy Simon as Neddy begin their dance, playing with some brilliant dialogue by Dylan Van Den Berg to lull us into the charming start of a young love story. It’s joyous and fresh. It’s a story of Blak Queerness too rarely heard. It’s something we could sit and enjoy for hours. But beneath it all, we know what’s coming, and we dread it. As Ty and Neddy grow to know each other, they also trade information on the strange new white people encroaching on their lands. We are in the early 19th century and we all know how this story ends. As the moons pass, and the White People grow bolder, the story grows more tragic and before our eyes, we see the dispossession of love, culture and place. We see the first days of this country. 

The performances alone are enough to praise this production as one of the best Sydney has seen in recent memory. Purcell and Simon are simply breathtaking and play the heart-aching love and loss of Ty and Neddy to perfection. Their work is only bettered by a stellar design team helmed by Mason Browne. The set gorgeously compliments the work of Simon and Purcell like a finely primed canvas ready to support the creation of a masterpiece each night. The lighting from Kelsey Lee and Katie Sfetkidis is exceptional; communicating time, loss and terror alongside the heart-fluttering awkwardness of a first kiss. Not to be left out is the affecting score by Steve Toulmin. A wonderful team delivering exceptional design work across the board. 

Guy Simon and Callan Purcell in Whitefella Yella Tree, 2022. Photo: Brett Boardman ©

Masterfully co-directed by Declan Green and Amy Sole, this work is a credit to Griffin as a company. They continuously produce stories that speak to who we are and who we have been as a nation. This play was nurtured through their Griffin Studio program and deserves every praise. Dylan Van Den Berg deserves to have his work programmed on every mainstage in the country. 

Whitefella Yella Tree is an important production about the stories that came before the ones we know so well. It is about those who were here first and who have remained despite it all. It is truth-telling. It is marvellous. It is Sydney theatre at its very best. You should move mountains to see it.

5 Stars.

Lily, 24 [she/her]


Whitefella Yella Tree, directed by Declan Greene and Amy Sole, is one of the rawest, most intimate, and most devastating pieces of theatre I have ever seen. It wrapped the audience up in an enveloping warmth, then quickly and harshly ripped it away, leaving a tender, heavy heart.

Guy Simon and Callan Purcell in Whitefella Yella Tree, 2022. Photo: Brett Boardman ©

Ever since this land called Australia was invaded, white people have done their best to ignore what they don’t want to see, forget what they don’t want to remember, and wipe out what they deem abnormal from Western society. This play was an awakening and a potent act of remembering. It was a revolution on stage, a revolt against those who try to erase such beautiful and subsequently hideous history.

Set in the early 1800s, the story starts at the beginning of early adulthood. Ty and Neddy are young boys around 15 years old and carry a golden-hearted playfulness. While they’re both from different mobs and live in different places, they meet every moon to discuss the new white people and what they’re up to. What made this even more poignant is that their choice of meeting place was under that of a new non-native lemon tree that infected the area similarly to the colonisers.

Their discussions started off humorous and lighthearted, matching that of a good gossip session. The genuine joy and awkward realness they both shared was hilariously gratifying. However, these joyful times spent together quickly became contaminated by the ever-looming fear of the invaders. At first, just a whitefella’s hat stirred them, but soon after Neddy’s camp got invaded and his sister got taken away. Now forced upon them was the decision of how they would both have to deal with this growing threat of danger. Ty decided to fight, and stick with his elders, but Neddy wanted to try and bargain with the white people, see if he could learn about their ways and find out where his sister was. This divided strategy was what separated them even more, and as Neddy began to stay with the white people for longer and longer, Ty began to watch as his world crumbled around him.

Guy Simon and Callan Purcell in Whitefella Yella Tree, 2022. Photo: Brett Boardman ©

Writer Dylan Van Den Berg does a breathtakingly brilliant job at flowing between comedy, drama, and poetry. He manages to take the audience on a rollercoaster of emotion and have the entire room switch from laughter to tears in a matter of seconds. One of the ways he made this show feel so life-affirmingly beautiful was the true genuineness the two boys had with each other. Callan Purcell who played Ty, and Guy Simon who played Neddy, were impeccable in these roles. Simon was astounding in his physicality. The skilful switches he would make from being young and awkward, to older and stiffer were distinctly clear. Purcell’s timing was undeniably flawless, leaving the audience in side-splitting laughter; and both managed to balance the comedy and gut-wrenching emotion of the show. There was no question of chemistry and they complemented each other gorgeously. The way they would tease each other, play with each other, and just truly love each other, was uplifting.

It’s rare to see a show where gay love is done without shame or an acknowledgment that it’s ‘different’.  As a queer person, to see these two people fall in love without it being questioned was moving. This sincere love was what made the story all the more tragic. To be included in love so kind and to then see it ripped away by colonisers was woefully devastating. A particularly soul-crushing scene was when Neddy came back to see Ty after spending two years with the whitefellas and feared the love they used to share. I almost broke down into sobs after Neddy fell to his knees and began praying to the Christian God to forgive himself and Ty for their homosexual sins.

While many scenes were tremendously impactful I’m thankful the show didn’t end with a feeling of shame. Instead, it ended on something much more powerful; love and pain. Two things in our history that must never be forgotten.

5 Stars.

Astra, 16 [she/her]

Griffin Theatre’s Whitefella Yella Tree plays at the SBW Stables Theatre until the 23rd September. Buy tickets here.