Wednesday, December 23, 2009

space to imagine

I saw Real TV's production of Children of the Black Skirt on 14th August at The Sacred Heart Chapel in the Abbotsford Convent. I wrote a review for December's Lowdown Youth Arts Magazine, which is changing to an online only publication in the new year. It was sort of sad to see this last edition in print...I think I really am a print newspaper girl at heart. Maybe it's the ink in my veins*. Here's what I had to say:

On a wintry Melbourne night a large crowd gathered to catch one of only two return showings of Real TV’s successful production, Children of the Black Skirt. First performed in 2003, this show has been revised and reworked after extensive touring and critical feedback from teachers, students and artistic colleagues. I’m so glad that Real TV has persisted in showing this work. It is a deeply haunting and carefully constructed piece of theatre written by award winning writer Angela Betzien.
The play opens with the sound of laughing kookaburras, and immediately we are in hot, rural Australia. Three girls run onto the stage playing and giggling together. Although it is a lovely scene, the audience is unsettled by an eerie echo; our first hint of the haunting that underlies this new world. The children decide to play dress ups, and when one of the girls zips up her black dress, we are immediately transported to a nightmarish space.
Black Skirt, played by Jodie Le Vesconte, is the haunting figure of this story-book world. She floats around the stage snapping huge black scissors straight from a gothic fairy tale. An enchanting musical score written by Pete Goodwin is filled with spirit voices and chilling sounds. Director Leticia Caceres also uses the silent figure of Black Skirt to insert moments of stillness and heightened suspense.
Towards the end of the play Vesconte plays Harold Horrocks, the grotesque orphanage inspector. This stylised character transformation is highly visible and provides one of many beautiful theatrical moments. Caceres uses this Brechtian technique and multiple characters to continually remind the audience that stories of displacement are prevalent throughout Australian history and are not unique to any one time or place.
We are introduced to many characters in this outback Australian orphanage. Day to day orphanage routines, washing and cleaning rituals and punishments are explored through snapshots and impressions. In one scene a girl is made to keep scrubbing until she has scrubbed off her colour. “I’m Aboriginal” she protests. Through children’s games and role plays we learn of stories which haunt the Australian landscape. Tragic stories of new arrivals are acted out and include tales of murder, transportation and retribution. Transitions between scenes are seamless. It’s almost as if the haunted souls are floating within the landscape, and they come to rest on the actors for a while. Despite the heavy subject matter, scenes are often incredibly funny due to exceptional character acting by Vesconte, Louise Brehmer and Melodie Reynolds. The young adult audience clearly enjoyed the skilled comic timing of the three performers.
Real TV’s production is a wonderful example of good storytelling. It manages to be playful, scary, hilarious and thought provoking. We don’t know everything about the characters we meet: who they are, where they came from. What makes this play really successful is that it provides the bones of a story. It draws from historical events but is not prescriptive. It allows the audience to bring their own fears and imagination to the story while also leaving space for creativity and conversation to continue beyond the walls of the theatre.
Children of the Black Skirt is an eerie reminder of our complex colonial history. The variety of voices heard in the play move the audience outside of a linear history, into a space that is able to be flexible and inclusive. In this play Real TV are exploring a new space in which to begin the possibility of negotiating colonial trauma. It is my sincere hope that this important and exploratory work tours for years to come.

*"Ink in His Veins" is the title of the book my Grandfather wrote about his father. They were both owners and editors of the Wimmera Mail Times in regional Victoria. I have inherited the Lockwood love for the smell of a fresh newspaper, a good old fashioned story and, of course, correct grammar [but please don't judge mine].

No comments:

Post a Comment