52 Plays in 52 Weeks: Week 7

Holy Day by Andrew Bovell

Recommended by Angela M

OK, so wow. Holy Day is heavy. Set in the outback of Australia in the late 19th Century at a Traveller’s Rest run by Nora and her Aboriginal daughter Obedience, three traveller’s arrive: Goundry, Epstein and Cornelius. At the same time a missionary’s wife, Elizabeth arrives out of the bush after the mission has been burned and her baby has gone missing. They call upon Wakefield, a local property owner to help them search for Elizabeth’s baby and husband. Obedience finds an Aboriginal woman Linda by the waterhole who she believes took the baby. So ensues a story of trust and truth. Who did take the baby and why?

Bovell is such a well respected playwright and I can see why. He conjures absolutely gorgeous imagery (if dark and moody) of the Australian landscape and juxtaposes that with the horrible behaviour of his characters. The opening image of Elizabeth on stage with the lightning flashing and the thunder rumbling around her is eery, distrubing and really sets the tone for the whole play. It is dark, sinister and the characters are really messed up, if I’m putting it nicely.

Bovell really captures the early attitudes white men and women had towards the Aboriginal people as well as the first experiences of the Stolen Generation. He captures that harshness and isolation of the Australian outback and how difficult it was for the English to adjust. I like also, that he includes convicts as a focal point also.

In terms of applying this play to class, there aren’t any particularly lengthy sections of dialogue although you may be able to piece certain parts of Elizabeth’s dialogue together into a monolgue performance. You could really use this play as a way of exploring the elements of mood and atmosphere and most definitely tension (between characters). I would be interested to see some directorial concepts for set and poster design because the technical requirements seem complicated and it would be interesting to see how they could be interpreted for a particular space. This would also be an excellent play to use in tandem with a study of Australian Drama and Theatre in the HSC.

Some links of interest:

What I Wrote by Snodger Media

Using Pinterest as an Inspiration Board for Holy Day (great idea for teaching costume!)

Mapping Australian Space in Theatre

BlakStage: An Australian Plays.org Showcase (An interesting selection of articles).

Image Credit: Approaching Minatbie / Georgie Sharp / CC BY-NC 2.0



  1. Pingback: Does Carnegie Vanguard’s HOLY DAY go too far for high school theatre? | Trevor Boffone, Ph.D.

  2. Re Andrew Bovell’s ‘Holy Day’, I worked on the first and only main stage production of this play in 2003 at Playbox Theatre Company. It is Bovell’s poetic, revisited recently in his new play ‘When the Rain Stops Falling’ and again in his adaptation of Kate Grenville’s ‘The Secret River’. I think the NSW HSC has a great grasp on contemporary Australian theatre practice.

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