Content note: Letters to Lindy contains coarse language and mature themes, including references to death and violence.
In 1980, nine-week-old Azaria Chamberlain died when she was taken from the family tent by a dingo while camping at Uluru; her disappearance, and the phrase “a dingo stole my baby” is deeply embedded in the national psyche. Villanova Players’ latest production, Letters to Lindy, centres on Azaria’s mother, Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton, who was accused of her murder, imprisoned for three years, and finally exonerated in 2012, after more than 30 years, in one of Australia’s most high-profile and hotly debated court cases.
Written by Alana Valentine and first performed in 2018, Letters to Lindy draws on the collection of more than 20,000 letters sent to Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton during those years, which are held by the National Library of Australia, and on interviews with Lindy herself. The letters include accusations, abuse, apologies, sympathy, support, poems, and more from friends, well-wishers, busybodies, fanatics, and critics. The content of these letters, incorporated verbatim into the script, is arranged to show the turning tides of public opinion and the case as it unfolded. The reading of the letters is intercut with short scenes, monologues by Lindy, and rhyming intonations in the style of a Greek chorus that further establish the facts and emotion of the case.
Directed by Elizabeth Morris – who, coincidentally, shares a name with the coroner who finally exonerated the Chamberlains and features briefly in the play – Villanova Players’ production of Letters to Lindy used an intimate setting, with seven chairs arranged at the front of the stage facing the audience. From the centre of the stage, Jane Binstead gave a moving performance as Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton; as the other actors read their letters, Binstead held a copy and reacted in real time, smiling, frowning, and occasionally wiping away tears behind them. The ensemble cast of six actors rotated through the roles of the many letter writers, sometimes using simple props or accessories to differentiate these characters.
Costume changes throughout the performance signalled the passing of time, and static photographs projected onto the back wall provided additional detail. Some of these images were real photographs from the court case, including the recognisable image of Azaria’s bloodied jumpsuit. Lighting and sound design by David Sakko added further depth to the settings and created more emotion and emphasis for some of the letter writers’ monologues.
A final, haunting song was performed live offstage by Tainika Kane-Potaka. Unusually, there was no curtain call; the audience was left to applaud to an empty stage, and to feel the weight of the story as they left without the ‘break’ that a curtain call generally provides in separating actors and characters.
Letters to Lindy was a moving performance, filled with a surprising warmth and wry humour as it dissected assumptions and accusations to reveal the woman and mother at the heart of the media circus.
Letters to Lindy will play at the Ron Hurley Theatre, Seven Hills, from 20 August – 4 September 2022.