News: The Secret River opens in the UK

Date posted: 07 Aug 2019 Author: STC

The Secret River at Edinburgh Festival 2019 (Photo: Ryan Buchanan)


★★★★★ The Telegraph, UK  ★★★★ The Guardian ★★★★ Time Out, Edinburgh ★★★★ The Times, UK  ★★★★ Whats on Stage

The Secret River has now opened in the National Theatre in London, after performing as part of the Edinburgh International Festival.

“This is a tremendously exciting moment for Sydney Theatre Company and for the cast, creatives and crew ofThe Secret River,” STC Artistic Director Kip Williams said. “Since the play was commissioned in 2012, it has been the company’s hope to take The Secret River to where Kate Grenville’s novel begins. We’re delighted at the UK audiences' reaction to this powerful Australian story.”

Directed by Neil Armfield, The Secret River is a story of two families divided by culture and land. William Thornhill arrives in New South Wales a convict from the slums of London. His family’s new home offers him something he hadn’t dare dream of: a place to call his own. On the banks of the Hawkesbury River, he plants a crop and lays claim to the soil in which it grows.

But the Hawkesbury is already home to another family. A family from the Dharug people, whose existence depends on that land. As Thornhill’s attachment to the land deepens, he is driven to a terrible decision that will haunt him for the rest of his life.

The Secret River depicts a turning point in the development of Australia; a fork in the road with the chosen path resulting in consequences we all live with today.


The Secret River at Edinburgh Festival 2019 (Photo: Ryan Buchanan)


Commissioned by Sydney Theatre Company under Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton 2012, The Secret River debuted at Sydney Theatre Company in 2013, followed by a tour to Canberra and Perth. In 2016 it made a return season at STC, followed by a tour to Brisbane and Melbourne and dates at the 2017 Adelaide Festival with stunning outdoor performances under the stars in the Anstey quarry.

With UNESCO’s International Year of Indigenous Languages taking place in 2019, it is especially powerful to hear First Nations actors speaking the Dharug Language on the stages of London and Edinburgh.

Winner of six Helpmann Awards, including Best Play, Best Direction and Best New Australian Work, The Secret River was heralded as “a stunning, shattering piece of theatre that goes to the heart of our history” (Sunday Telegraph).

STC has a long history of putting Australian theatre artists on the world stage. Recent tours to Europe and the United States have included Waiting for Godot at the Barbican in London in 2015, Gross und Klein travelling around Europe in 2012, and The Present in a landmark season on Broadway in 2017.

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government’s Major Festivals Initiative, managed by the Australia Council its arts funding and advisory body, in association with the Confederation of Australian International Arts Festivals Inc., Sydney Festival, Perth International Arts Festival and The Centenary of Canberra.

The Secret River 2019 tour is supported by Ian Narev & Frances Allan, Gretel Packer and original commissioning patrons Catriona & Simon Mordant AM and David Gonski AC & Orli Wargon OAM.

Interested in tickets?

For further ticket and event information, please visit these websites.

Edinburgh International Festival, 2 – 11 August.

National Theatre in London, 22 August – 7 September.

Reviews from the UK tour

“[Andrew] Bovell’s play and Neil Armfield’s production combine masterly storytelling with metaphorical resonance.” ★★★★ The Guardian 

"Ravishing and sobering epic… a huge and impressive piece of theatre" ★★★★ Time Out, Edinburgh

"A compelling historical epic.. It’s unforgettable and frankly – given our ongoing need to look at the legacy of empire –  unmissable"  ★★★★★ The Telegraph, UK

“Raw, powerful storytelling… Sublime.” The Stage, UK

“A mammoth production that takes a small family story and projects it onto a narrative of nations.” ★★★★  Whats On Stage

Reviews from the Sydney Theatre Company season

“Astonishingly beautiful to look at, languid in its storytelling and deeply affecting… Essential viewing.” Sun Herald

"A stunning, shattering piece of theatre that goes to the heart of our history." ★★★★½ Sunday Telegraph

"Extraordinary theatre laced with enchantment and truth." ★★★★½ Sydney Morning Herald

"Finely realised stagecraft, an ensemble on form and a story that invites all Australians to reflect." ★★★★½ Limelight Magazine

Vale Ningali Lawford-Wolf

On 11 August 2019 Sydney Theatre Company was devastated by the passing of Ningali Lawford-Wolf while on tour with The Secret River in Edinburgh.

Read the statement issued on behalf of behalf of Ningali Lawford-Wolf’s family and Sydney Theatre Company, and further statement by her family.

The London season of The Secret River continues with the blessing of Ningali’s family and honours her memory.