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Reviews/Theatre

Feast of First Nations storytelling from Yirra Yaakin

28 June 2022

There’s a bright future for First Nations theatre if Yirra Yaakin’s Vignette Series is anything to go by, says Michelle White.

Yirra Yaakin Vignette Series ·
Subiaco Arts Centre Studio Theatre, 23 June 2022 ·

While it’s not unique, it is unusual for a professional theatre company to develop and present a mainstage production consisting of a collection of short plays from multiple emerging playwrights.

But for Yirra Yaakin Artistic Director Eva Grace Mullaley it was a no-brainer.

The company’s annual Writer’s Group had produced eight exceptionally well-written scripts that were perfectly suited to their short format. Mullaley said it just didn’t make sense to select just one piece for full length development, as would normally be the case, so she picked the lot.

The result is Yirra Yaakin’s Vignette Series. Eight short plays, written by seven playwrights, acted by a six strong ensemble cast – including some of the writers – and then directed by four emerging Aboriginal directors – a veritable feast of First Nations theatre talent.

The smaller studio theatre at Subiaco Arts Centre provides an intimate space to experience Western Australia’s next generation of storytellers and story makers.

Zac James’ Marlu Man was a highlight for me. Marlu Man is a “wannabe” superhero, who sets out to wreak revenge on a social media troll for spewing racist hate speech online.

The script is inspired by a real-life tragedy, the killing of James’s young nephew who was mowed down by a middle-aged white man in Kalgoorlie, enraged over the theft of a bike.

The media circus and vile social media pile-on after the tragedy only compounded the family’s grief.

Rather than telling this story through a lens of fury and anger, James delivers some heart-aching truths through humour. This play left me smiling through tears as we celebrated the formation of the latest blackfella superhero duo Marlu Man and Djitty Djitty.

A scene from Yirra Yaakin's Vignette Series in which four people are frowning at one another. One is in a wheelchair, the rest stand.
A gently told story: Bruce Denny, Bobbi Henry, Cezera Critti-Schnaars and Wimiya Woodley in Bruce Denny’s ‘Operation Boomerang’. Photo: Dana Weeks

A “No Coloureds” sign sets the scene for Andrea Fernandez’s homage to her Dad’s memories of growing up in a segregated Carnarvon. What A Night is set outside a whites-only dance hall. We meet two siblings who desperately want to join the party, but are excluded because of the colour of their skin. What follows is a cacophony of small-town bigotry, gossip and scandal, deftly crammed into the short script.

Cezera Critti Schnaars breaks the stereotypical “boy meets girl” mould with two pieces that explore the complexities of love, life and relationships in Salted Pretzels and Skipping Stones. I found it refreshing to see a First Nations work without any reference to identity… just humans connecting with humans.

There’s no shortage of tough themes throughout this collection of vignettes. Bruce Denny’s Operation Boomerang is a gently told story about the right to die with dignity and connection to country. Warrior, by Declan R Taylor, explores spirituality, ancient rites and the perception of mental illness.

Barbara Hostalek’s Prickly tackles the modern First Nations dilemma of mining versus country, career versus country and Crocodile, by Merlin Wolf, is a cleverly written piece about truth, identity and predators.

The future of First Nations theatre is exciting and strong.

Yirra Yaakin Vignette Series continues at Subiaco Arts Centre until 30 June 2022.

Pictured top are Marlanie Haerawa and Wimiya Woodley in Andrea Fernandez’s ‘What a Night’. Photo: Dana Weeks

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Author —
Michelle White

Michelle White is a Yamatji storyteller with more than 30 years writing and producing for televison, radio, print and online. She has extensive experience working in the arts and currently serves as Partnerships and Platforming Manager for Community Arts Network. Favourite part of the playground? The flying fox or wherever the food is!

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