Three years after its premiere on the Sydney Theatre Company’s main stage, Andrew Bovell’s adaptation of Kate Grenville’s novel maintains its profound storytelling power, as an emancipated convict, Will Thornhill, “takes up” land on the Hawkesbury River in the early years of the 19th century, only to be drawn into frontier murder of indigenous people.

The base of an enormous gum tree is the backdrop, dwarfing the performers and reminding us this is no new country whose original inhabitants can simply “bugger off”. There is a small open fire, and the scent of eucalypt. Stephen Curtis’ set design, Mark Howett’s lighting and music played on stage from Iain Grandage’s score by multi-instrumentalist Isaac Hayward and others all harmonise empathetically with the unfolding of tragic human miscommunication.

The Secret River, as Neil Armfield confirms in his programme director’s note, continues to evolve as a stage work. In 2013, performer Ursula Yovich sang a song in the finale, playing both narrator Dhirrumbin and Dulla Djin, the lover of the reasoned white man Blackwood (Jeremy Sims in 2013, Colin Moody in 2016). It was a deftly realised final moment that lingers; Yovich has a soulful tone built upon personal struggle...