21 August 2011

Review: Namatjira

Malthouse Thearte and Big hART
12 August 2011
Merlyn Theatre
to 28 August

Grandchildren of Albert Namatjira asked Big hART to share the story of their grandfather.

Big hART created Ngapartji Ngapartji, one of my highlights of MIAF 2007, the story of Pitjantjatara performer Trevor Jamieson's family and the devastating impact of the Maralinga bomb tests on Arrernte country in Mparntwe (Alice Springs). For such a horrendous story, the telling overflowed with the kind of love, understanding, joy, pain and sharing that defines amazing theatre.

Namatjira is as wonderful and is by far my favourite show this year.

Most of us recognise Namatjira's unique watercolours of the MacDonnell Ranges. By painting how country looked, instead of its meaning, Namatjira's windows into country adorned many suburban walls in the 1940s and 50s, are gallery protected today and decorate as many Aussie, Aussie, Aussie place mats as Ken Done's. But Done still gets cheques for his designs; Namatjira desperately sold the copyright to his because he needed money.

Namatjira is the story beyond the history book declaration of Australia's first official Aboriginal citizen, the highway naming in Canberra and the commemorative stamps. From a Lutheran mission, where translations of hymns left Jesus being tracked to kill, to meeting a girl called The Queen, Albert changed his name, fell in love, had children, learned to paint with digger Rex Battarbee, supported an extended family of 600 and faced frustrations that his citizenship and fame couldn't overcome.

Directed by Scott Rankin and Wayne Blair, the collaborative telling involves Namatjira's grandchildren and relatives, composer Genevieve Lacy and Big hART's master storyteller Jameison is joined by the too delightful (and ridiculously funny) Derik Lynch.

In a world where we continually define ourselves by our social groups and standings, it's a joy to laugh at our attempts to not define ourselves and share a story that should be far better known. Namatjira is not to be missed; your heart will thank you for going.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

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