30 November 2008

Sammy J’s Wagon of Friendship

Sammy J’s Wagon of Friendship
November 29 2008
The Speigeltent


Hail down Sammy J's Wagon of Friendship before it high-tails out of town and Sammy is forced to cut off his limbs in order to please his family for Christmas.

I first saw Sammy J early this year when he sang about shagging Brittney Spears and Germaine Greer (not at the same time). Now, after a journey through the Forest of Dreams, he’s singing about his soon-to-be wife, and not embarrassing her at all.

Every time I see Sammy, I like him more. In the course of a few months, I’ve gone from a (possibly condescending) ho-hum-to-OK to a (genuinely enthusiastic) oh-my-god-don’t-miss Sammy-J.

My cheap rhyme of OK with J was inspired by Sammy’s lyrics. Anyone who rhymes Ingrid with fingered has to be on the road to stardom - or infamy.

From his opening auction of a comic routine (a giggle won’t win, but try a chortle and see what happens) to the metaphor challenge and it’s devastating consequences, Sammy J effortlessly charms with his blend of slightly-naughty cabaret and I’m-trying-to be offensive-but I’m-just-too-nice stand-up. Even the cunt jokes are as welcome as the cute, furry shoulder-sitting mole meditation. (Not sure about the rape joke though. It needed more context to make it funny, rather than just under-grad annoying. Germaine would agree with me.)

We were expecting Sammy-J and his piano to be driving the wagon alone, but Randy (ably assisted by puppeteer Heath McIvor) insisted on a roadside hijack, decked out in a how-can-you-call-this-racists ‘Red Indian’ costume. Randy isn’t as loveable as Terry the squirrel (from the brilliant Sammy J in the Forest of Dreams), but he’s still pretty cool and the unique McIvor/J pairing is as endearing as Bert and Ernie – but with more swearing and less homoerotic undertones.

Along the way, Sammy’s wagon found Ali McGregor hitching hiking along Swanston St and offered her the guest-spot of the night (this time I loved the dress Ali), got the audience pushing when the road was a bit muddy, but failed to entice Geoffrey Rush into the cabin.

Sammy-J's Wagon of Friendship is parked at The Speigeltent until Saturday. You’ll only be disappointed if you decide not to go.

This review origianlly appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Spontaneous Broadway

Spontaneous Broadway
November 8 2008
The Speigeltent


The original Spontaneous Broadway premiered in New York in 1995. The Australian version has been around since 2000 and I’ve yet to see anything as consistently hilarious.

If you like your musical theatre original, controversial and topical, you could become a Spontaneous Broadway addict. There’s no Vietnamese-US angst or French class wars in these shows. Instead there’s the topical anger of a hopeless, privatised train provider that strands thousands of drunk bogans in their fascinators and tuxedo t-shirts, and the inner-city despair of a compromised couple whose relationship might not survive, “Inappropriate carpet burns”

If you feel the urge to release your inner-Sondheim or closeted-Lloyd-Webber, grab a ticket - because your work could be discovered, published, produced and performed at Spontaneous Broadway. The catch is - it’s a once only thrill, as every show is improvised.

Audience members place their song and musical suggestions into the ‘Bucket of Dreams’. As host-extraordinaire Russell Fletcher introduces the show, the cast select their finds. It’s then time for the wonderful Dame Helen Highwater (Genevieve Morris), Chad Bradley (Geoff Paine), Sally-Anne DeFinklestien (Julia Zemiro) and Gordon Supwell (Ross Daniels) to share their improvised numbers, accompanied by the musical genius of John Thorn.

Everyone is as-close-to-perfect-as-you-can-be-when-you’re-making-it-up-on-the-spot, but Thorn’s flawless creations never cease to astound. Zemiro asked for a dramatic, German, dark cabaret number and they created the never-to-be-forgotten “Vomit over my love”, followed by the cast’s rendition of the sing-a-long-in-the-car-until someone-pukes “Are we there yet, Mum” – which I’m still singing at inappropriate moments.

After the tease numbers, the ever-reliable audience clapometer selects the final, mini-musical. One has to wonder why anyone bothers to rehearse when shows this good can be made up in an instant. This week, Flemington was rejected for The Sneeze that Kills. Seeing train-provider Connex pummelled in song was tempting, but the visceral lyrics of “Spitting in the moat” refused to be resisted. And Daniels must be awarded the Rhyme of the Year award for survivor/saliva.

If you managed to miss Spontaneous Broadway at the Melbourne Fringe, don’t despair because there are still a handful of Saturday afternoon performances at The Speigeltent. Just get in early, because, when it’s this good - once is never enough.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

The Hypocrite

The Hypocrite
Melbourne Theatre Company
20 November 2008
The Playhouse, The Arts Centre


The Hypocrite is an ideal end-of year crowd-pleaser for the MTC. It’s cast with favourites, knee-slapping funny, pretty to look at and offers a neat interpretation of a work that most MTC subscribers read during their formal education.

Molière penned the original in French rhyme and Justin Fleming’s translation shines as brightly as the 22 fabulous chandeliers glittering over the stage. Fleming’s clever and intricate rhyme scheme changes as the content moves from hypocrisy to true love, and a very effective pattern differentiates Tartuffe. As Dr Seuss proves, none can resist the delight of a rhyming couplet, and beauties like knowledge/porridge, dig it/bigot and chassis/map of Tassie won many well-deserved cackles.

This Hypocrite is directed, designed and performed for laughs. It’s like a panto for grown-ups, with clownish performances, over-the-top costumes, big hair, closet jokes and well-known actors. Who’s not going to laugh at Garry Macdonald (Orgon) in thigh-high, lace up gold boots and a full length, lime-green velvet jacket? There’s even the ultimate “he’s behind you” gag, which becomes evident during the deus ex machina ending.

Kerry Walker is the stand out as Madame Pernelle. She handles the difficult language with ease and creates a grumpy and believable clown. It would be hard for Macdonald and Nicholas Bell (Cléante) to deliver anything other than great; Marina Prior’s comic timing was a welcome surprise; and Martin Sharpe (Laurent), Sara Gleeson (Mariane) and Chris Ryan (Damis) are delightfully petulant teenagers, but need to listen to Kerry in order to master the delivery of rhyme.

It’s also very rare for Kim Gyngell to disappoint. His performance is impeccable, but I wonder about some of the character and direction choices. He’s a sleazy, ridiculous and totally transparent fraud – which Kim does perfectly, but this doesn’t leave any doubt about the rightness of the family and the delusion of Orgon and his mum. It’s hard not to compare it with Malthouse’s recent version of the same work (Tartuffe), but what struck me about Marcus Graham’s Tartuffe was the creation of empathy and doubt. To feel the impact of Tartuffe’s deceit and downfall, we need to know why Orgon and his mother were so besotted with this man and wonder if the family’s opinion of him is selfish and misguided. (And, of course, it would be wrong to compare Kim’s underwear scene to Marcus’s.)

The Hypocrite is like indulging in a vanilla slice from a posh Toorak bakery. It looks scrumptious, is totally enjoyable at the time and much better than a cheap version - but the gratification doesn’t last and you know there are more substantial, nutritious or unforgettable options out there.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

22 November 2008

David Bridie and George Telek

David Bridie and George Telek
22 November 2008
The Speigeltent


David Bridie and long-time collaborator George Telek made the Speigeltent dance at their Australasian World Music Expo performance. There wasn’t actually room for the audience to dance, but the weather made the velvet canopy undulate for us, as the mirrors and coloured glass kept us safe and dry from the unseasonal Melbourne storm.

David Bridie founded my second favourite 80s band, Not Drowning Waving, and (I think) favourite 90s bands My Friend the Chocolate Cake. With film soundtracks and solo projects, he’s continued to produce an ongoing supply of his evocative and haunting sounds, smooth voice and personal lyrics.

Telek’s web site describes Telek as “a band, a man and, in some parts of the world, a legend”. With legions of fans in Papua New Guinea, he has been at the forefront of the PNG music scene since the 70s.

David met George in 1986 when he was holidaying in Rabaul, PNG, and two years later Not Drowning Waving recorded Tabaran with Telek and other musicians from the area. David Byrne declared it his favourite album of the year and Peter Gabriel was so impressed that Telek performed at WOMAD festivals and has since recorded on Gabriel’s Real World label.

Journalist Jon Casimir describes Tabaran as, “Neither exploitative nor the slightest bit anthropological ... a genuine, joyous integration of cultures, a landmark album which sounds as startlingly right today as it did in 1990.”

I bought my copy after being gobsmacked by Telek and Not Drowning Waving one hot night in the gardens at WOMADelaide. The unique fusion of traditional with contemporary sounds didn’t diminish or demean either, and it was such a joy to hear the same music, so many years later, and realise that it’s still so original and powerful.

David also pleased the assembled fans with a selection from his most recent album Succumb and favourites “Dive” and “Salt” from Act of Free Choice. He performs with a sometimes disconcerting distance from his audience, but his passion for his music is absolute and addictive.

George, David and their band sent us back into the rain with “Melbourne City”, the first song George wrote when he came to Melbourne in the late 80s – and David insists that there are still beetle nut stains on the footpath alongside Elwood beach from that visit.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com.



19 November 2008

Death in White Linen

Death in White Linen
Full Tilt and High Performance Company
19 November 2008
Fairfax Studio, the Arts Centre


The Full Tilt program finds the best independent theatre makers and lets them lose in the Arts Centre, so more people can see the wondrous works created in tiny venues across the country.

Death in White Linen was developed in 2003 at VCA and performed at La Mama earlier this year. Writer/performer Michael Dalley insists it’s all about “how you tell your story” and fortunately, he’s a compelling and very funny story teller.

In a balanced mix of sketch, narrative and song, Dalley plays all of the characters in a story that follows three generations of a family from post-war working class Liverpool to the pre-financial crisis property boom in Melbourne’s outer suburbs. He insists that it isn’t autobiographical, but there’s no doubt that it is his story.

As the likes of Barry Humphries prove, the snobbery and pretention of our suburban middle class is wonderful comic fodder, and each of Dalley’s characters has an authentic familiarity that is instantly recognised by anyone still coming to terms with their nouveau-posh suburban upbringing and schooling dominated by more class barriers than Marx ever dreamt of.

With stand outs like the “Mating habits of the bourgeoisie” song, the jolly undergraduate review, and his recollection of Melbourne at a time of ‘Einstein on the Beach, Kennet, colonic irrigation, South Bank and John Hewson’s fight back, Death in White Linen is on its way to even greater things.

Structurally and thematically, the work does need some shaping and a good script editor to help the narrative flow smoothly, take the “sketch show” feel away from it, tighten some of the characters and convincingly incorporate the title theme of death.

A decision also needs to be made about the role of the pianist. John Thorn is his standard fabulous self, but needs to be fully incorporated into the story, given a clear character or taken off-stage. As a semi-character and practical assistant, he was distracting, rather than enhancing. (And the time he got out a biro and wrote notes on the music when he thought no one was looking...If you are on the stage, someone is looking at you!)

Michael Dalley’s a total hoot and Death in White Linen is ready to be enjoyed with a brandy crusta or vermouth and dry; it just needs some development before it’s ready for its next big step.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

15 November 2008

Avast

Avast
Malthouse Theatre and Black Lung Theatre
15 Novemebr 2008
Tower Theatre, CUB Malthouse


I’m not sure if Black Lung’s Avast is the beginnings of pure brilliance or utter crap.

Malthouse Theatre let notorious independent company Black Lung loose in the Tower Theatre, bolted the doors firmly, and left them to see what would happen.

The Tower has been transformed into a death-themed kitsch hovel, where mounted animal skulls complement the crucifixes, and an atrocious velvet matador carpet seems perfect in the inbred atmosphere.

Avast opens as dense fog ascends and a large-cocked corpse breaks out of his coffin, shoots his widow and proceeds to watch his two sons discuss their existence. One son wears black jocks, a small gun and is covered with crucifix tattoos, while the other sports a long, well-worn leather coat and spends his time in a washing machine. They’re by no means derivative.

Black Lung don’t want to create a nice night at theatr". They like to shock and see just how far they can take their subject matter. After such a strong opening and following their Deliverance-meets-Neighbours Short and Sweet play, I was ready for something dark, slightly painful and hilarious. There were moments that got there, but overall, it felt a bit flat. Sure, everything supported the premise that “As a dominant form of communication, theatre has become absurd”, but sometimes the absurdity seemed to be there because it was fun for the cast and it didn’t resonate beyond their mates in the audience.

Nonetheless, my favourite moment was the ridiculous, unexpected, but oh-so-welcome appearance of the bi-polar bear from the recent Malthouse production of Kitten. I don’t think there was any deep or metaphorical reason for the bear’s cameo. In fact, I suspect he just wandered into the Tower and the Black Lungers offered him a large blue-flavoured slushy if he’d join the cast. I also think the bear should just hang out at random shows and wander on whenever the audience seem a bit bored.

There’s room for Avast to go to a deeper, darker, more violent and more shocking level, which I think would give it the kick-in-the-guts impact it seems to be striving for.  Avast II – The Welshman Cometh is also running, so perhaps they need to be seen together to get the full picture.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

Lea DeLaria is Naked

Lea DeLaria is Naked
November 14 2008
The Speigeltent


Whether your tastes were with you from birth, influenced by your upbringing, or revealed as you grew older, Lea DeLaria will convert you. You may still be in denial, but by the end of Lea DeLaria is Naked you will be an out, proud, badge-wearing jazz fan.

Oh my, can this gal sing. With a 25-year career and rave reviews, she’s belted out tunes in Broadway shows, is no stranger to Carnegie Hall and her latest album is on the Grammy ballot. Her upbeat “Miss Otis Regrets”, bebop scats and swinging “Ballad of Sweeny Todd” brought the cheering Speigeltent audience to its stamping feet. (If perchance she misses the story of swinging Sweeny - stop the show and beg her to tell you the tale. Let me just say that it involves The Rocky Horror Show, Joan Jet, marijuana, free drinks, a piano bar full of first-year music theatre students, Mr Sondheim himself and a three album contract with Warner Bros.)

Often hailed as one of the greatest jazz singers of our time (check out her MySpace page to have a listen), DeLaria stuffs every stereotype of a precious jazz ingénue into a mincer, turns it into a burger and serves it up with the best damn sauce, salad and extra-large serve of hand-cut fries you’ve ever had.

Lea won’t be offended if I use the term big, fat lesbian; in fact, she may be offended if I don’t. In 1993 DeLaria was the first openly gay comic to appear on US television and her showstopper “Butch Woman Blues” lets anyone who wasn’t sure know exactly where her tastes and preferences lie. As she has been known to yell back at fuckwits, “I’m twice the man you’ll ever be and twice the woman you’ll ever screw.”

Jazz and stand-up isn’t the most obvious coupling, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. DeLaria had me crying, snorting, spluttering and almost begging her to stop just so I could catch my breath. She made me laugh, too.

There’s nothing G rated about her humour – unless we’re talking spots. If fisting demonstrations (and you will be showing everyone this at the bar after the show), pussy chasing, eating Sarah Palin’s Moose burger from behind, and fucking the Bush twins isn’t your style of giggle – just go along anyway and listen to her sing.

It is so liberating to see a totally authentic performer and person. There is not a millimetre of Lea DeLaria that is not her honest, genuine and meant-to-be self. Maybe if more people believed that there is nothing wrong with how they look, think or feel there would be a lot more very happy people and amazing performers for us to enjoy.

A two-night-stand with Lea wasn’t enough for Melbourne. We only just met her and she headed off to Feast in Adelaide (and perform at the Feast festival this week), but let’s hope she comes back soon and often because she’s fucking fabulous and I’ve no doubt that she’s also a ...

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com

14 November 2008

The Be(a)st of Taylor Mac

The Be(a)st of Taylor Mac
14 November 2008
The Speigeltent


As thousands paid far-too-many dollars to encourage regression and waltz at the world’s largest transportable Viennese castle, sitting inside a sports stadium; an elite group filled the Speigeltent supporting Taylor Mac, his Pandora’s suitcase and his belief that we can over turn mediocrity with pizzazz.

Taylor Mac used to share his “plays” with fellow Americans, but success at the 2006 Edinburgh Fringe has led him further afield. His plays are a fusion of ukulele accompanied songs and stand-up monologue. The Be(a)st of Taylor Mac is more than just a typo; he describes it as subversive juke box musical of the best of his Bush-era work. (Having also seen Lea DeLaria earlier, can I say how glorious it is to see artists from the USA being proud of their country’s recent voting decision.)

Taylor believes whole-heartedly in beauty, but not in perfection. He is among the many bringing drag out of the Danny La Rue closet into a world that embraces the masculine and feminine in all of us. Taylor’s “finery” includes outrageously coloured and glittery make up, fishnets, dreadlocked wigs or his bald head, and a changing op shop collection of frocks and high heels (which may be oppressing to women – but to him they are liberating). There’s a lot of femininity about Taylor, but it never hides or distracts from his male self.

He’s incomparable and, as he says, “Comparisons are for people who don’t have enough adjectives in their vocabulary”. Fuck-me shoes, too-much sparkle and jokes about language and grammar – what’s not to adore!

However, Taylor’s work comes from times when he wasn’t adored and from the hate that has caused pain and death to people who dare to step away from the accepted middle line. There’s a lot of fun in this show, like his piece about having to masturbate to stereotypes, but it’s supported by a backbone of material about the loss of love, and sobering reflections like his song about the 2007 shooting of 15-year-old Lawrence King.

Taylor sings that the revolution will not be masculinised. Welcoming the hetero queers in the audience, he defines queer as, “Someone who was shunned by society so much as a youth that they can never shun.”  He knows he’s usually preaching to the converted, but reminds us that we go to church to be inspired.  By the end of the night the entire “queer” audience was inspired and reminded that, “Nothing is worth doing if it doesn’t make you feel nervous”.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

13 November 2008

The Women of Troy

The Women of Troy
Malthouse Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company
13 November 2008
Merlyn Theatre, CUB Malthouse


Barrie Kosky never wants his audiences to feel too comfortable and The Women of Troy is a relentless reminder that wars continue to strip women of power, dignity and hope.

Of course, he does it in true Kosky fashion; with blood, music and a mixture of discomfort, unexpected beauty and unsettling humour. It starts with confronting violence and never lowers its intensity. By the end, we accept the constant gore, gun shots and pain as normal. I initially thought this was a pacing problem, then I realised that it was probably the point – and it was a point made damn well.

Kosky describes Euripides’s ancient work as, “one of the most searing and moving antiwar plays ever written.” With Tom Wright he adapted and condensed the script to its core, telling of a post-war time after the city of Troy has been overrun by the Greeks (with a cunning plan involving a big horse) and those left alive can only see a future of humiliation, pain and violence.

For a director who loves words, sounds and music, the impact of a Kosky show is always the visual. The music and three-person chorus (Natalie Gamsu, Queenie Van De Zandt and Jennifer Vuletic) were stunning at the time, but I’ve forgotten what they sung, and I can barely remember the script.  But the images have remained.

The direction draws on unforgettable horrific images from our current wars, supported by Alice Babidge’s design of an endless warehouse of lockers and cabinets, where blood trickles and pools, and we don’t want to see what’s behind the closed doors. Here the bloodied and bruised women are treated as carcasses, ready to be shipped off to their new owners in boxes bound with packing tape.

Robyn Nevin (as Queen Hecuba) and Melita Jurisic (as Cassandra, Andromache and Helen of Troy) are riveting. Kosky directs his performers in a way that breaks down all public personas and shows us the uncensored thoughts of the person’s inner voices and unconscious. As classical works were written without thoughts of naturalism, it’s no wonder Barrie presents them so vividly.

The choice to cast Jurisic in the three roles continues to split opinions. If you know the work, each character is clear, but it is confusing if you don’t, or haven’t read the program notes. Either way, it distracts by focussing the show on her performance (which is superb), rather than the piece as a whole.

I’m never quite sure how to read a Kosky work – which is what I love about them. He understands his own intricate interpretation and directs with a detail that supports his every thought. So, to avoid confusion, I think its best to just sit back, let the experience flow and see how you feel at the end.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

11 November 2008

Madama Butterfly

Madama Butterfly
Opera Australia
11 November 2008
State Theatre, the Arts Centre


Opera Australia’s production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly was first seen in 1997. Directed by Moffatt Oxenbould, it is still powerful and relevant today and is an ideal introduction to the sweeping emotion and grand music of this wonderful art form.

The archetypal story of Pinkerton and Butterfly was inspired by a short story, a novel and (possibly) actual events, and continues to be regularly adapted.  (Boublil and Schonberg loved it so much that they based Miss Saigon on the tale, and the inspiration of Puccini’s music is unmistakeable in Les Miserables.)

When a story is so well known, there is a tendency to play the end before it happens. I’d have liked to see Act 1 directed with a greater sense of hope and love, rather than foreshadowing the tragic end. Her death isn’t what make’s us cry, it’s her loss of hope.

Nicole Youl, nonetheless, shines as Cio-Cio-San (Madama Butterfly), playing her with the belief that she can and will fly. Vocally and emotionally she paces her performance perfectly; holding back to tame the melodrama, while letting the emotion flow to its extremes when needed. She is strongly supported by Sally-Ann Russell as her maid Suzuki. The relationship of these two sustains and drives the drama of Act 2.

The design by Peter England and Robert Bryan is an example of how opulence and simplicity can blend to create something outstanding. Surrounded by water and sliding screens, the wooden stage represents home, afar and isolation. Floating candles, brightly coloured kimonos and flickering stars create a beauty and grandness that transports the story out of the everyday into the universal. However, it wasn’t designed for the State Theatre and the sight lines from the front rows miss much of the overall picture.  Choose seats at least half way back in the stalls or head to the balconies.

My only concern with the beautiful production is movement. I don’t expect opera performers to be dancers, but they can be choreographed to be less uncomfortable as they sweep across the vast stage. The movement of the chorus was particularly rigid and lacked character and purpose. The chorus role is minimal, but they are vital to for the drama and visual impact of Act 1. Last year I sat in the same theatre watching Robert Wilson direct a rehearsal of The Temptation of St Anthony.  He ensured that the most seemingly insignificant person on that stage knew how essential they were to the stage picture and choreographed their every move. This attention to detail turned a beautiful production into something exquisite.

Minor quibbles aside, this passionate production proves the vitality of opera, and I heard many opera subscribers declaring it the best Madama Butterfly that they had ever seen.

Finally, I have just heard about the sad and sudden passing of Richard Hickox. Hickox was the Music Director of Madama Butterfly, which continues to stand as a testament to his great talent.

This appeared on AussieTheatre.com

02 November 2008

Guest Review: Charles Dickens performs A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens performs A Christmas Carol
Eagles Nest Theatre
2 November 2008
The Speigeltent

Review by Laura Hamilton


This production tells Dickens’ story in a way I imagine is close to how he would have wanted it told, staying true to the traditional English way of performance.

Conveying a tale about the values of money versus humanity, Phil Zachariah is Charles Dickens, alone on stage for 2 hours as he enlightens us with a lively, animated interpretation of Dickens’ famous Christmas Carol story. In embodying Dickens, it is obvious Zachariah has done plenty of period characters throughout his acting career – he completely looks and sounds as if he belongs in the year 1840. In what is a massive undertaking for one actor, what Zachariah does best is personify a storyteller. With hardly any props or set, the challenge is obvious, and his changes in vocal intonation and physical embodiment meant he was incredibly successful in creating the illusion, the image; a very important factor in this type of show.

The Spiegeltent is an ideal venue for hosting a show with such traditional beginnings. It made it easier to imagine the creation of this production – I could see Dickens’ reading his own prose to an adoring audience of all ages in a quaint cabaret-type venue. At times this production had me slightly restless, but I think that is more a result of the action-packed, a-scene-a-minute type theatre that we are increasingly presented with in the industry. James Adler’s production of A Christmas Carol challenges the audience to rely on nothing but the script and the actor, and that’s certainly not a bad thing.

I really enjoyed seeing such an old story told to a packed out, thoroughly modern mix of audience members ranging in age from 6 to 86 – proving that so may years on, Dickens’s appeal still remains widely varied.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

01 November 2008

Yibiyung

Yibiyung
Company B and Malthouse Thearte
1 November 2008
Beckett Theatre, CUB Malthouse


The telling of stories is how we remember, grow and learn.  Yibiyung tells the story of writer Dallas Winmar’s Nan who lived at a time when, “You just did things because it was all you knew.”

I think I can safely say that the key demographics of the Malthouse audience are: liberal, middle class, over-educated, fond of Sauvignon Blanc and own “Sorry” t-shirts. So I wonder if “we” are the right audience for this story.

Yibiyung the most traditional “play” I’ve seen at the Malthouse in a long while. Its dramatic telling was predictable, the characters could do with some fleshing out and complexity, it followed a well-worn structural path, and told a well known story. Those unfamiliar with this story may have found it more compelling. It may actually be clear and bland enough for the likes of Little Johnny H to understand. (He’s got some free time now, but I’m guessing he still chose to watch “Dancing with the Stars” instead of going to that theatre.)

I wanted a more complex and ambiguous story, but I came back to director Wesley Enoch’s program notes.  “At the heart of every story lies the reason for telling it. Sometimes these reasons are personal and therapeutic, and sometimes the story takes on a social/political role – a national metaphor – and is told for the benefit of many. The stories of the Stolen Generation are like that.”

If Yibiyung was fiction, it would be a different story. Winmar is telling us her Nan’s story and has chosen to tell it with love, respect and honesty. Louise Gough’s dramaturgy crafted its telling, but never let Winmar’s voice become secondary. And it is Winmar’s story that is being shared with us, including the letters and official correspondence about Yibiyung (thanks to the Freedom of Information Act) and the Noongar language of Western Australia spoken without unnecessary translation.

Enoch concludes, “In a post-apology world the need to tell these stories has not evaporated.” Yibiyung is a story that needs to be told, but there’s room in the telling for some new layers.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com