Features, News, Performing arts, Theatre

A sweet metaphor for the many ways to be Muslim

In their first production since 2015’s vivid chronicles of young queer Muslims Once We Were Kings, Third Culture Kids are back with a festive “living room dramedy” about the world of three migrant Muslim sisters.

Named for the sweet cordial beloved in many countries, SHARBAT is shaping up to be an earnest blend of the personal and the universal, mixed in with a good sprinkling of brown youth realness.

Patrick Gunasekera sat down with the show’s writer and performer Doreshawar Khan to discuss the good Muslim/bad Muslim rift, Khan’s dreams for brown youth theatre in Perth, Rami Malek, family, white supremacy, and so much more.

Patrick Gunasekera: This story of navigating tumultuous relationships with siblings is a deeply universal one, but what was the starting point of SHARBAT, for you?

‘… the term sharbat is like a metaphor for how people observe religion or pay respect to their culture.’ Doreshawar Khan in ‘SHARBAT’. Photo: Kayleigh Scott.

Doreshawar Khan: So, it started specifically on September 17, last year. My brother had moved from Perth to Melbourne to pursue a number of things, his arts career, for one, because there wasn’t much acting work in Perth for him, and his music career, because, again, very limited here. Him leaving was almost a blow to this idea of having my family around me constantly … he was the last of my siblings to go and do their own thing. It brought me to this place of, “Hey, we’ve all grown up now, no one lives with Mum and Dad anymore, we’re doing our own thing, soon they’re going to get married and have their own lives!”

That whole thing of seeing your siblings as “adults” with their own lives gets very scary if you’re the oldest and don’t really have your life together, or, what is presumed to be “together” if you’re the arty kid. And so, I started thinking about that a lot, what it’s like to have a huge cultural background where siblings, at least in Pashtun and Pakistani culture, are very close. You all share a bedroom, you don’t really get your own spaces, you’re all enmeshed, everything is done together as a family. And then, you move to Australia and suddenly you’re allowed to have your own space and your own bedrooms, your own identities, and then you kind of grow slowly apart. And, it’s really strange because these are people you grew up with, who are witnesses to your past, to a place and a time that no longer exists.

So I started thinking, you know, what would it be like if you had three sisters who grew up in this household as children of migrants, and they all took different directions in how they pursued their life, and also their faith. I think the starting point was my own experience with my siblings, because we all have a very different take on how we practice or don’t practice our religion, and we also have a very different take on how we have structured our lives, and sometimes we have little arguments about what the “right” way is to live or do things.

PG: There’s a metaphor you’re exploring in SHARBAT – “They say blood is thicker than water but the Gül sisters think it’s more like diluted cordial.” For me the title and that metaphor really speaks to the disappointment of unmet expectations in family relationships…

DK: Yeah. There are many reasons why I picked the title SHARBAT. Sharbat is a drink that we have at celebrations back home, particularly Rooh Afza (we are not affiliated with Rooh Afza by the way!) Sharbat is this cordial, and everybody has a different way of making it. Some people like it super sweet, some people water it down immensely so it’s red but tastes like water, some people put milk in, whatever. There’s different ways to serve sharbat.

So I feel like the term sharbat is like a metaphor for how people observe religion or pay respect to their culture. There’s different ways to do it: some people are all in, some people take bits and bobs, some people tend to water it down a lot because it’s safer to do that in this climate. There’s no right or wrong way to observe a religion or a culture when you’re in this space which makes it inherently unsafe for you to be part of your culture.

There’s no right or wrong way to observe a religion or a culture when you’re in this space which makes it inherently unsafe for you to be part of your culture.

There’s a lot of discussion about, you know, can you be “culturally” Muslim? And I think you can, personally, because religion and culture are such personal things, how you observe something that belongs to you, that was given to you through your heritage, your parents, only you get to decide how you can use that. Just like anyone can say there’s only one way to make sharbat, well, there’s not just one way to make sharbat, it depends on what you grew up with.

Trying to get away from that ‘one size fits all’ idea of what an ethnic family behaves like or looks like: writer/performer Doreshawar Khan and performers Sabrina Hafid and Mani Mae Gomes in ‘SHARBAT’. Photo: Kayleigh Scott.

But I also think, with “blood is thicker than water”, you expect family is always going to be this perfect structure. Especially with multicultural society, people say, “Oh, I love your culture so much, it’s based so much around family!” And I’m like, “Really? Have you met my family? We go days without talking to each other sometimes, months even!” Not all ethnic families are as bonded as some stories suggest.

So again, the dilution thing, of how Australian you want to become and how much of your culture you want to observe. But also, is blood really thicker than water? Are your siblings always going to take your side in a situation? Siblings can do some pretty nasty things to one another too, as you will find in the play. But, they can also be your greatest allies and supporters sometimes. I guess it was trying to get away from that “one size fits all” idea of what an ethnic family behaves like or looks like. In particular, I wrote this from the perspective of somebody who grew up in a Pakistani family that migrated to Australia… though we don’t really allude to the Pakistani-ness of the characters because I just wanted to keep it – not generic – but, something that everyone could see themselves in.

PG: Yeah! I super relate to the thing around growing up with religion in the 21st century. Something I think is a curious difference between you as a Muslim and me as a Buddhist is that the way a lot of Western culture engages with Islam is through fear and prejudice, but then the way a lot of Western people engage with Buddhism is through cultural fetishism and harmfully appropriating that religion. I’m sure there are elements of that happening in Islam as well, but that’s definitely been a strange part of my relationship with growing up with Buddhism.

DK: What I always find interesting entering any space that expects me but has not met me, is that there’s a certain expectation of what a feminist Muslim looks like, and I can tell you now, they aren’t expecting me when I walk into the room. And it’s because I don’t cover my head, I’m tattooed, and I dress really weird. I’m gonna say weird because people say, “Oh you dress really interesting” and I think interesting is code for weird…

PG: I love the way you dress!

DK: I wear a lot of vintage, old-timey clothes.

PG: Yaaaasss.

DK: So, often when I walk into a space, usually arts spaces, people expect someone very different to be showing up, and then when I’m like, “It’s me, I’m the writer of this show, I’m the creator of this work,” they’re like, “Oh, uh, so um, Muslim…!” And it’s this dot dot dot, explain yourself, that sits really heavy in the air, and I don’t know why that is. I don’t know why who I am is at odds with what the idea of a Muslim feminist looks like.

I guess it’s also because people assume there’s only one way to be Muslim and that’s to be hyper-observant of this whole body of spirituality, when in reality a lot of it doesn’t speak to me anymore, and some parts of it do. I grew up Muslim, and whether I observe it now or not, it’s part of who I’ve become, it’s shaped who I’ve become. So, it doesn’t matter how observant I am in this part of my life, part of my character has been shaped by the good things in it, part of my anxieties come from certain ways that it was preached to me or taught to me.

As a person, it’s shaped me, therefore, for people to assume that to be Muslim you have to be a particular kind of Muslim, it irks me a lot. Who gets to decide these rules? I think that’s what I was trying to bring out with the three sisters, they grew up in the same household with the same parents, one of them was very observant, one of them was more relaxed with how they observed religion, and then all three of them took a different turn in how they decided to pursue their search for faith and identity. And it’s a very real thing! There’s no”one size fits all” mantle that you can wear and be like, “I am the representation of females in Islam now!”

And this “good Muslim”/”bad Muslim” thing needs to die a very quick death, because it prevents people from telling honest stories, because you triple think and go, “Will this make me look like a bad Muslim? Am I dishonouring my culture, heritage, family, society, group?” There’s already so much tension, people counting on our behaving in this one particular way so we’re not seen as a threat. And I feel like we have to overdo that so that we can get these spaces that we can be ourselves in, but then we don’t even end up being ourselves in them.

PG: The current climate of independent theatre in the metro area is a dynamic and multifaceted one, but also one in which a show like SHARBAT isn’t frequently programmed. Most theatre audiences in Perth aren’t used to seeing work made by and about families like ours. How has this dynamic shaped the development of this project?

Sabrina Hafid and Mani Mae Gomes in 'SHARBAT'. Photo: Kayleigh Scott.
‘…the moment you put three brown people on a stage, suddenly it becomes ‘that Muslim play’ or “that brown person play”, and they feel like they can’t empathise with our characters, and that’s a real problem!’ Pictured are Sabrina Hafid and Mani Mae Gomes in ‘SHARBAT’. Photo: Kayleigh Scott.

DK: As I was saying before, it’s hard because I don’t come from a theatre background. As I’m sure you’re aware, a lot of people who come from culturally and linguistically diverse and migrant communities don’t get to choose the arts as a first choice because there is this huge expectation from our own families and from our communities that we will do something to better the community. In 2003 when I migrated here, my parents brought us here because they wanted us to pursue careers that would give us a better place in the world. Their understanding of a better place in the world is very much shaped by the capitalist society we live in, so having money equals having respect as a brown person. The arts was not a way to do that, and so people like me didn’t pursue the arts after we finished high school. And so it means that there are hindrances to our understanding of the structure upon which things like theatre are built.

I was also hyperaware with my team being very new to theatre, like, how are we going to get the word out? How are we going to engage with these people, because yes, you’re right, the kind of people who come to theatre, even independent theatre, are a very specific demographic. Are we going to have to water down our script? Am I going to have to take out all the inshallahs and mashallahs and alhamdulillahs out of my script because white people or non-Muslim people don’t know what that means? And so it became a really big artistic struggle when I was writing and directing it – how do I maintain the integrity of the piece and make it reflect at least a very generic Muslim family, because I couldn’t find Pakistani actors to play Pakistani characters, I couldn’t even find Desi actors at the time to play three Desi sisters. It’s so difficult.

Are we going to have to water down our script? Am I going to have to take out all the inshallahs and mashallahs and alhamdulillahs out of my script because white people or non-Muslim people don’t know what that means?

So, the script saw many changes. In the end, we decided it was going to be a Muslim family, we alluded to someplace that they could be from. In future mountings, I’d like it to be a Pakistani family, I’d like it to be a bit more honest. Due to time constraints (because apparently theatre is only meant to go for 75 minutes) a lot of the script ended up getting cut. Although, I’m used to Bollywood three-hour sagas, I want a three hour saga onstage with a little break in the middle, that would be really nice! One day, I hope we get there.

I don’t know if anyone else has had this experience, but even when I talked to teachers in high school about my grade and was like, “Please, you’ve got to give me an A, my parents would be so disappointed,” they didn’t get the whole “parents being disappointed” thing, and I’m like, “You don’t understand how much it means to us as brown kids to please our parents.” And I feel like that is a part of the show as well, how hard these daughters work to please their father or mother and appease them and not want to disappoint them, and I was worried that would get lost to an audience even ten years later. What do they understand about our dynamics and our families? This could be a real learning and teaching moment. But then, I’m also worried that all works that I create will just forever be stuck in this loop of having to teach audiences first and then express feelings later, so how do you fit all that in 75 minutes? First of all, I have to educate this audience, then I have to explain what we’re feeling, and then from there I have to make them empathise, or sympathise with these characters. Most brown people grow up seeing white people on screens, we already empathise and sympathise with their problems even though we don’t experience them. But the moment you put three brown people on a stage, suddenly it becomes “that Muslim play” or “that brown person play”, and they feel like they can’t empathise with our characters, and that’s a real problem!

Most brown people grow up seeing white people on screens, we already empathise and sympathise with their problems even though we don’t experience them. But the moment you put three brown people on a stage, suddenly it becomes “that Muslim play” or “that brown person play”, and they feel like they can’t empathise with our characters, and that’s a real problem!

If I make even three or four people who aren’t from my background cry within the whole run I’d be like, this is great, we’ve somehow struck empathy gold. Because I just find that that’s a really huge problem, people don’t seem to feel as bad for brown people, because apparently, we’re supposed to struggle, we’re built for struggle, we’re so “strong” and so “brave”, that’s all we ever do, struggle! And we’ll get through it! But there’s no empathy for that struggle, it’s painful! One part of me is content writing stories that are cathartic, but at the same time I don’t want to be stuck in a career where all I’m doing is repackaging my trauma to make it better because the system has failed all of us in providing other avenues to deal with so much generational pain. So maybe that’s what theatre is doing now, but it shouldn’t always be that way. I’d like to see happy endings for queer brown characters, I’d like to see success stories onstage, not just,”By the way, we disappointed our parents and this is how it played out onstage.” It would be nice to make works that are diverse within the diversity as well.

More diversity, less about adversity!

But I have to say one quick shout out, I went and saw Fully Sikh on Saturday, and it’s funny because in 2003 when I moved to Australia, the first thing I saw in my English lit class was Bend It Like Beckham, and my teacher said to me, “You’re from this general area,” and I’m like what, the UK? I’m not from the UK! And she said, “These are your people!” And I’m like, they’re Sikh! I’m Muslim! No commonality. But that’s how little representation there was in Australia in the media about being brown, and so I had to somehow be like the conduit between Bend It Like Beckham and my white classmates.

And I remember thinking, well, there’s a movie about brown families and I relate to this, and then it was so surreal fifteen years later sitting in an auditorium, shoeless, watching Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa cook dhal on the Black Swan stage! And I was sitting there going, am I in a weird fever dream? There is a brown woman cooking dhal on a stage, when fifteen years ago there was only one movie about being Sikh, and now this person has gone and created this body of work at Black Swan State Theatre Company, there is hope!

And that gave me this weird perspective of, maybe someone will have this moment when they come see SHARBAT and they’re like, “There’s somebody yelling alhamdulillah and mashallah and somebody just did the Arab trill in the middle of the room!”

And I want that to be the thing, because in 2005 when I graduated from high school and I wanted to go to the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, my dad decided that law would be a better option because, “You’re not Cameron Diaz, no one is going to hire you for a movie.” 2005 was the year of Cameron Diaz, look it up, so many movies. But that’s so sad, when your own parents are like, “I’m just trying to protect you, you’re not going to get into the movies, you’re not white.” That was the general feeling.

But then, early this year when I told Dad, “I’m not really going to do anything else, I’m going to make theatre, SHARBAT’s been picked up, this is happening now,” he was like, “That’s very nice. I was watching the Oscars with your mother, there was a very nice boy, his name was Rami Malek, he won an Oscar, maybe you can write for Rami Malek.” So my dad just assumes as well that I will write for Rami Malek one day, so if Rami’s reading this interview, I can write for you, Rami! But it was just so cool to see my dad’s perception over fifteen years change, because he saw Rami Malek accept an Oscar. He sends me little snaps of Sukhjit’s face on the bus, saying, “That Sukhjit girl was on the bus, one day you will be on the bus,” so he’s still doing the Desi parent thing of, “She’s on the bus, why aren’t you on the bus?”

But even so, it’s so nice for him to acknowledge that there is a future in theatre for brown people, brown families, it’s great. It’s like shifting a giant boulder, because my dad is very strict in his views of the world and for him to go, “Yeah, I guess theatre could be a career” is a huge thing! And it’s all because people like Sukhjit are making art, they’re being given spaces, because movies are coming out about our lives, because people like Rami Malek are being casted as brown characters.

My dad is very strict in his views of the world and for him to go, “Yeah, I guess theatre could be a career” is a huge thing! And it’s all because people like Sukhjit are making art, they’re being given spaces, because movies are coming out about our lives, because people like Rami Malek are being casted as brown characters.

Fifteen years ago, they probably would have picked some white guy to play Freddie Mercury, but they didn’t. And it would be great if someone from Freddie Mercury’s community could have been picked, that would be the next great thing. But hey, they picked somebody who was born as an Arab-American and they made a name for themselves. We need more of this. The more we see ourselves in these roles, the more the other generations will be going, “You know what? I can do this, it’s not impossible.” So, shout outs to the people who made Bend It Like Beckham, because I would not have thought that anyone would be interested in any narrative I wrote.

Whenever I hear things about dreams, I just feel like, dreams are great, it’s wonderful to have a dream, but it’s way better to have a to-do list.

PG: What are your dreams for the future of brown youth theatre in Perth?

Pictured: Sabrina Hafid in ‘SHARBAT’. Photo: Kayleigh Scott.

DK: Whenever I hear things about dreams, I just feel like, dreams are great, it’s wonderful to have a dream, but it’s way better to have a to-do list. And, I reckon the to-do list for brown theatre is that we collectivise, we start an organisation, we unionise, we make demands on spaces to have our work and go, if you’re going to tout diversity as a thing, if you’re going to talk about how diverse your shows are and how diverse you are, show it, and give us better deals. Don’t just ask us to work for free in spaces, don’t just ask us for letters, for our support, and then forget about us when it’s our turn to take a space or a job. It’d be nice to be thought about at times other than when you need support letters, when you need a speaker, when you need somebody for a diversity poster.

This is not a jibe at any institution in particular, I think we all have a lot of work to do. I hate that the only time I ever look for other brown people in theatre is when I’m making a work. I should know who these people are to begin with … Maybe there could be … an autonomous theatre group for people of colour, or an autonomous space where we can go and create work without having the expectation that we’re going to behave a particular way.

It would be nice to see more senior officials or members or CEOs who are people of colour in positions of authority … For there to be more people in positions of power and authority and leadership who are brown and young would be nice.

It would be nice to see more senior officials or members or CEOs who are people of colour in positions of authority. It would be nice to have more diverse theatre that is programmed across the year and not just all at the same time. I’m very aware, I don’t know if this was deliberate, but we’ve got Cephalopod playing at The Blue Room after SHARBAT finishes, we have Fully Sikh on, we have Yirra Yaakin’s Ice Land playing, and we also had Layla Majnun. Five amazing productions that are all PoC centric are all on in the same month. It’s PoCtober! But I feel Perth audiences aren’t at that point where they go, “We’re going to watch all of the PoC-made stuff,” it’s usually more like, “We’re just going to pick one.” And so, programming them across the year would be great.

For there to be more people in positions of power and authority and leadership who are brown and young would be nice. For there to be more programs for us to develop our skills, because like I said, we don’t always get to go to tertiary places like WAAPA and NIDA, and some of us can’t afford to, some of us need to work, there’s still a huge pay gap guys! So that would be nice, for more workshops to be there.

For there to be mentorships that are culturally sensitive as well, like, it’s great that there are mentorships for writing and for acting and theatre, but it’s very rare that you’ll get a mentor who is culturally and linguistically diverse. So it would be nice to see more people matched to someone who would support their work in the most honest way possible, not just because, “You’re Muslim, I’m Muslim, let’s work on this,” more like, “Hey, you’re queer, I’m queer and Muslim, let’s collaborate on this because we can speak to each other’s experiences.”

Also, more stories would be great, and like I said before, it would be nice to have stories that are not just trauma stories. I’d like triumph stories, I’d like weird, wonderful, whacky works of art as well, because I feel like somehow we’re always relegated to telling the story about our culture and background and explaining that, but we don’t get to make as much postdramatic theatre.

… it would be nice to have stories that are not just trauma stories. I’d like triumph stories, I’d like weird, wonderful, whacky works of art as well, because I feel like somehow we’re always relegated to telling the story about our culture and background and explaining that …

For there to be more scholarships, for there to be more workshops, for there to be more space, and when I say space in theatre I don’t just necessarily mean a physical building, I mean space: give us space to make work that is honest to ourselves, we don’t speak for an entire community any more than a white person speaks for all Australia. Give us space just to be ourselves, to create honest works of art where we don’t have to fit into a mould so we can get money and funding. That would be nice. That would be great.

And also: Rami Malek I’m still waiting for your email.

PG: Yes! And finally, what do you hope audiences will take from seeing SHARBAT?

DK: My hopes are that people can come into this living room play and see how life sometimes plays out for some people who are Muslim in different ways; that people can look at Muslim women in different ways and see that not all Muslim women behave the same, dress the same, have the same reason to dress a particular way. That there’s a new way to look at and humanise what it means to grow up between cultures in Australia, because this is a reality for us now.

We’re moving to the point where some people my age in our communities are having children … It might be a nice thing to pass down to newer members of the community/planet, that you can essentially choose how you decide to represent yourself as a member of the community, and we will have your back. There’s no such thing as bringing shame to the community unless you are a terrible human being and make other people’s lives very very difficult.

There’s so many ways to be Muslim, that’s really what I want people to take away from this. There’s no one Muslim narrative, there’s no one migrant family narrative. SHARBAT is about one particular family, and at the end of it, the relatable part is that we all have family members that sometimes we can’t stand to be around, but how do we make peace with that? … With a lot of learning about a dynamic that we don’t necessarily learn in brown families, because apparently forgiveness is everything when you’re Muslim, forgive everybody! What if you don’t have that space in your heart to forgive? That should be okay too.

So, it’s broadening that discussion, breaking down those boxes that we were taught in one place, and breaking down the boxes in the other place that we’ve come to live in. I don’t know how else to answer that question, hopefully it gives a cross section of many different aspects of what it means to be young, Muslim, and Australian.

In SHARBAT you have three different people who have this different way of seeing the same religion and what it means to them, and how they view God and view the dynamic of what’s happening in society at the moment. And, it boggles the mind because, I don’t know, the number of times that people have said to me, “You’re just Muslim when it’s convenient,” it’s hurtful! And you hear that about yourself, and you go, “But why do you even say that? Is it because I’m not doing a ‘good job’ at being Muslim?” And that question comes up a lot, like, “Am I a bad Muslim?” And so, the bad Muslims are represented, the good Muslims are represented, the ambivalent Muslims are present there, the punk Muslims, the Instagram Muslims, the mipsters are in there, it’s like a whole cross section of people I’ve met in my life, people I’ve been in my life, and people I hope that I one day am comfortable in being in my life, are in that little space.

I hope that SHARBAT touches some people and says, “You know, it’s okay to be the way you are, that character did it and it worked out okay for them.”

SHARBAT is running October 24 to November 2 at The Blue Room Theatre.

Pictured top are writer/performer Doreshawar Khan and performers Sabrina Hafid and Mani Mae Gomes. Photo: Kayleigh Scott.

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hip hop, Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Hip-hop odyssey tells confronting truths

Review: Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company, Ice Land: A Hip h’Opera ·
Subiaco Arts Centre, 17 October ·
Review by Gina Williams ·

Don’t let the lush red curtains, the painted ponies and the pretty lights fool you; this production was never going to be about beauty or feeling good. Ice Land: A Hip h’Opera examines the ugly consequences of a society that stops living like a community and begins to function as an economy. As the bottom falls out of the mining boom and the cracks appear in community, our most vulnerable fall into the abyss of ice addiction.

It’s almost midnight in the Emergency Department of Royal Perth Hospital. Unseen staff move slowly as the plot unfolds. Here, we meet Joy (Layla Hanbury), Carly (Moana Lutton aka Moana Mayatrix of West Australian rock band Moana) and Cole (Benjamin Hasler of WA hip-hop group Downsyde). As the title suggests, this is a story told through the densely packed blend of words, song and beats that is hip-hop.

Research has ensured this production has authenticity. Pictured is Layla Hanbury as joy. Photo: Dana Weeks.
Research has ensured this production has authenticity. Pictured is Layla Hanbury as joy. Photo: Dana Weeks.

There’s plenty of drama; Joy’s only child has taken ill and is receiving emergency treatment. Carly is almost driven to distraction with fear as her brother is placed in psychiatric care following a psychotic episode. And Cole is waiting for his critically ill nanna, who is in intensive care.

Collectively they battle a common enemy; methamphetamine addiction. Their stories are held together and moved along deftly by Dnale Ci (Downsyde’s Scott Griffiths). As dealer, devil and seducer combined, Griffiths is compelling to watch; at once menacing and charismatic.

We discover that Joy has fallen into addiction following the rejection of her parents and the loss of a previous pregnancy. She loses her job and significant relationships and supports, leaving her child as the sole reason to continue living.

We learn that Carly’s parents died in a car crash, leaving Carly with her brother. Depression, alcoholism, self harm and domestic violence are never far away.

But Cole has the story which is easiest to relate to and hardest to watch. Cole lives with his nanna, his family torn apart by addiction. The intergenerational trauma is palpable. Cole, the King of Belmont, named “Waarlitj” (Eagle) by his nanna, has swagger to boot. Yet if you dig a little, you’ll find a hurt little boy who is disconnected from culture and community, who was abandoned by his parents and now struggles to articulate what he needs to heal. “I have love to give,” he says, and it’s hard not to feel the sadness.

It’s hard not to feel the sadness: Benjamin Hasler as Cole. Photo Dana Weeks.

Under the clever direction of Kyle J Morrison (King Hit, The Fever and the Fret, Skylab), the performance moves along swiftly. The set and lighting (Matthew McVeigh, Joe Paradise Lui) add to the dramatic effect of the storytelling without distraction.

Of course, the music is fantastic – a real credit to the collective talent of the four cast members/lyricists, and music director Darren Reutens (Downsyde), librettist/lyricist Zac James and lyricist Ryan Samuels aka Trooth. I’d love to see the soundtrack released as a concept album.

For me, the musical highlight was a rare moment when Lutton softly sang to herself and we were treated to one of the most bittersweet, purest voices you’re ever likely to hear. But again, this production was never going to be a thing of beauty and her powerful vocals are undeniable.

Avoiding clichés: Dnale Ci (Scott Griffiths) and Carly (Moana Lutton). Photo: Dana Weeks.

It would be easy to trot out all the regular tropes and clichés around stories of addiction, but Ice Land manages to avoid this. Interviews held for 18 months with various sectors of the community in the lead-up to the creation of Ice Land have informed this production and given it an authenticity it may otherwise have lacked.

Ice Land: A Hip h’Opera was confronting and difficult to watch. But lots of important stories are. At the end of the opening night performance, Scott Griffiths thanked the audience and hoped out loud that “we fill this venue, because we need to start these conversations and we need to start ridding ourselves of this scourge that is ice addiction.”

After watching this production, it’s impossible not to agree.

Iceland: a Hip-h’Opera runs until October 26.

Pictured top: Layla Hanbury and Scott Griffiths. Photo: Dana Weeks.

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News, Reviews, Theatre

No rain on the Dream’s parade

Pop-up Globe, A Midsummer Night’s Dream ·
Crown Perth, 11 November ·
Review by Jan Hallam ·

Another night, another play… thoughtful tragedy, one night; uproarious comedy the next; clear, starry skies for Hamlet, relentless rain on the Dream. The Pop-up Globe has got the lot and the common denominator is that, come rain, hail, or moonglow, the show goes.

The enthusiasm of the crowd was far from dampened by the persistent showers on the opening night of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the folk in the pit, with supplied ponchos, were ready to party. It added enormously to the atmosphere to what is already a very atmospheric venue.

Pop-up has two companies performing in repertory. The Exeter’s Company is performing the Dream and Twelfth Night, while the Nottingham’s Company takes on Hamlet and Measure for Measure. The concept, while offering more work for more actors (always a good thing), is attractive from an audience perspective too –  there is always something new and intriguing to discover.

Anatonio Te Maioha as Oberon, embracing Renaye Tamati (Titania).

So it is with Exeter’s Dream. After the youthful brooding of the previous night’s Hamlet, director Miles Gregory’s full-on assault of the Dream’s gender wars was a sight to behold.

It’s interesting that he doesn’t dwell long in the marble halls of Athens, first of the play’s two settings, and quickly heads for the hills and anarchy of the world of the “fairies” led by Titania and Oberon. Certainly, the laughs are all there but the comparison between the two settings is important.

Theseus’s Athens is power and order – for him. The forest is a creature of a different shape altogether. Here Titania calls the shots… mostly.

So hugely significant, then, is Gregory’s opening scene of Theseus dragging in his captured bride, Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, through the crowd, bound and gagged. If we weren’t going to spend much time in this place, it was a great conveyor of how business was conducted there.

Not surprisingly that what follows is a father declaring he would rather his daughter dead than to marry a man he hadn’t chosen for her. Thus, the antecedence of the absolutely hilarious, loveable quartet of lovers, Hermia and Lysander, Helena and Demetrius, is born from this darkness.

All four players nailed this. Rebecca Rogers’ Hermia was a brittle diamond, Ruby Hansen’s Helena was shimmering, gibbering neurosis, Harry Bradley’s Lysander was a fabulous Eton mess of a thing and Simon Rodda’s Demetrius was, well, quite slimy. They took these attitudes through the cobbled streets of Athens, through the murky swamps and thorns of the relationship forest and out the other side, still keeping their essential selves. Loved it!

The Mechanicals are Shakespeare’s gift to the world. Led by Peter Hambleton’s Bottom, almost literally, they are the joy that gives air to this crazy, crazy play.

The Mechanicals are the joy that gives air to this crazy, crazy play. Held aloft is Sheena Irving as  Starveling.

But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this production was the magic created by the language of Titania’s and Oberon’s forest. Here the otherworldliness comes in the lyrical sounds of te reo Maori spoken by Anatonio Te Maioha’s Oberon, Renaye (Ngati Kahungunu/Te Atiawa/Kai Tahu) Tamati’s Titania and Eds (Ngapuhi) Eramiha’s Puck.

And not just the odd outbreak – almost the entire engagement is exquisitely rendered, led entirely by some great acting of voice and body. Not a drop was spilt – well maybe we were missing a foundling or two, but if anything is incidental in the fiery relationship of Oberon and Titania, it is probably the kid.

Here the enslaved Hippolyta transforms into Titania’s wild dervish, and the masculine certainty of Theseus is completely undone in Oberon, who learns that every action has an effect that cannot be controlled.

And Puck! A success of a performance of the Dream, I reckon, rests largely on the chemistry of the Quartet and the interpretation of Puck. I have seen some nasty Pucks in my day. Eramiha’s good hearted, bit of a bumbler, bit of a chancer but helluva dancer Puck set the tone of this good natured and thoroughly entertaining show.

Nothing rained on its parade.

So, Pop-up, two out of two. Two to go!

Pop-up Globe’s Perth season (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Measure for Measure, Twelfth Night) runs until October 27.

Pictured top is Anatonio Te Maioha as Oberon.

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Students strut their stuff in sordid story

Review: WAAPA third year acting, Birdland ·
The Edith Spiegeltent, 14 October ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

Birdland, the rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust rock melodrama by the notable British playwright Simon Stephens (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time), has been given a highly charged, highly sexed going over by WAAPA’s final year acting class under the whip of Andrew Lewis in the Academy’s Edith Spiegeltent.

It’s the cautionary tale of Paul (Ben Chapple), a rock star at the zenith of his career, playing the stadia of Europe from Moscow to Berlin to Paris to London, and leaving a trail of self-destruction behind him.

He fucks – no point in beating around the bush – Marnie (Camila Ponte Alvarez), the French girlfriend of the band’s guitarist and his best mate, Johnny (Bryn Chapman Parish), and tortures her with threats of exposure, leading to a catastrophic outcome.

He scoops up Jenny (Ruby Maishman) a young woman working in his hotel and squires her across the continent, including to the home of Marnie’s distressed parents outside Paris where he behaves abominably.

Ben Chapple’s performance is a tour de force. Photo: Jon Green.

He is an abomination, in every way, coming apart under the weight of fame and money, sex, drugs and all that stuff. His generosity is as callously uncaring as it is easily given, even to his hard-up father (Lachlan Stevenson).

His undoing is as swift and inevitable as it is thoughtless and reckless, and when his manager, David (Hamish White), picks up the pieces, he’s not particularly fussed how many of them are what’s left of Paul.

At times the show feels a little anachronistic; although its iPhonic trappings are present day, its feel is more ’70s, more glam than hip-hop, more acid than meth. And it’s surprisingly two-dimensional, coming from a writer who is capable of growing empathy in unpromising soil.

But Chapple’s performance is a tour de force. He commands the stage (which he occupies for the entire show) with a kind of wide-eyed evil. You can’t like him, but you can’t help but worry that you might.

Parish (who has more than a little of David Bowie’s look about him) is both an excellent foil and an impressive individual character, and Maishman juggles Jenny’s opportunism and rising alarm, as Paul disintegrates, with aplomb. The incidental roles in the 17-strong cast (Christian Meares and Poppy Lynch accompany on guitar and drums) are provocative and excellently played.

The creative forces Lewis has marshalled, lighting designer Matthew Erren, sound designer Heinrich Krause and costume designer Maeli Cherel, and a team of specialist coaches and directors from fight to intimacy (hello!) help give this sordid, sad story both its spit and its polish.

Birdland is a great opportunity for a WAAPA graduating class to strut their considerable stuff.

Birdland runs until October 17.

Pictured top: Ben Chapple and Jonathan Lagudi. Photos: Jon Green

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Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa. image credit Daniel J Grant.jpg
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

It’s finger-clicking good

Review: Black Swan State Theatre Company and Barking Gecko Theatre, Fully Sikh ·
Studio Underground, 12 October ·
Review by Xan Ashbury ·

I can’t recall ever having used the word “sick” as an expression of enthusiasm or admiration, let alone having coupled it with its obligatory intensifier, “fully”. That’s all about to change.

Like everything about this show, written and performed by Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa and directed by Matt Edgerton, its title is perfect. Not only does it hint at the show’s cultural themes, it provides a succinct and accurate review. Fully Sikh is fully sick.

One of my all-time favourite poems is “Capital Letters”, by the spoken word artist Omar Musa. It relates his experience growing up in Queanbeyan, NSW, among the “kids of immigrants” who were “made to feel very small”. Musa recalls “the whistle of go-back-to-where-you-came-froms” and how it was rappers who taught him the power of his voice. His clarion call to others who are marginalised is to “weave your stories into nets, trawl for the things you thought you’d lost”. Above all, he commands them to reject labels, be bold and live their dreams.

Fully Sikh is Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa’s story of growing up in suburban Perth – and in many ways her story parallels that journey described by Musa. Khalsa’s father came from Punjab, she tells us, and “the city of five rivers lingers in his limbs”. From the school yard, to the local swimming centre, from the supermarket to the cinema, she encountered ignorance and xenophobia. (“All that echoes is ‘towel head’ and the salty taste of embarrassment.”) She found her voice writing hip hop parodies and performing for family, before hitting the performance poetry scene six years ago – and making her mark across the country.

Tellling her stories through verse: Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa is accompanied by composer Pavan Kumar Hari. Photo: Daniel J Grant.

Khalsa has indeed woven her stories into a net of sorts. Fully Sikh trawls the depths of her family, culture and identity. And it captured the audience’s heart – from the moment we slipped off our shoes and stepped into the auditorium, to the unique curtain-call, in which she performs a shabad, a divine poetic song.

Khalsa says she was the shyest child at Leeming Primary School and in the Sikh community. You wouldn’t know it now. She manages to not just own the stage but populate it too, creating an illusion of her family members, school friends and frenemies.

Her stories, told through verse, are enhanced by show’s composer, Pavan Kumar Hari, who performs the music live on stage as well as assuming several character roles to hilarious effect.

Isla Shaw’s ingenious set has all the magic of the wardrobe from Narnia. Central to this is what appears to be functioning kitchen, representing the heart of the family home in Leeming. At times throughout the show, various pantry cupboards are opened to reveal a garden or the Gurdwara. Clever manipulations also set the scene in Woolies, Hoytes, the recreation centre, Sukhjit’s bedroom and a school assembly hall.

The action takes place under four rows of draped fabric, stretching the width of the performance space. It’s an evocative spectacle.

Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa and Pavan Kumar Hari. image credit Daniel J Grant.jpg
A generous spirit: Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa and Pavan Kumar Hari in ‘Fully Sikh’. Photo: Daniel J Grant.

Fully Sikh highlights the struggle for acceptance that newcomers face, where there is ignorance and prejudice. It reminds us that the past was not necessarily a better place and that Australia is strengthened by cultural diversity. It does this not through angsty rants but through a brilliant balance of humour, honesty and a generous spirit.

At one memorable point, the audience is invited to stand and learn a Bhangra dance. (“Screw the lightbulb, tap your feet, bounce the ball.”) It’s rare to be among an audience having so much fun. Later, in silent rapture, we watch as Khalsa ties a turban onto the head of a volunteer from the audience. Along the way, we learn how the fabric reminds the wearer of their roles in their family and community, and of the values of courage, strength, unity.

Those who frequent poetry slams will be familiar with the convention of finger clicking. Rather than saving their applause until the end of a poet’s piece, audience members are free to click their fingers when they’re particularly “feeling it”. At the beginning of the show, Khalsa invited the audience to express themselves this way. The clicking soon wore off, though – not because the audience wasn’t feeling it, but simply because it’s not physically possible to click your fingers for 75 minutes straight.

Fully Sikh runs until October 27.

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Children, News, Reviews, Theatre

Heart-warming tale delivers wisdom and warnings

AWESOME Review: Windmill Theatre, Beep ·
Octagon Theatre, UWA, 12 October ·
Review by Lydia Edwards ·

On the day we were due to see Beep, the new production from South Australia’s Windmill Theatre Co, my three year old daughter had already watched the trailer over a dozen times. Protagonist Beep, the squat, big-eyed robot who arrives from a dying planet, had stolen her heart: and we were still several hours away from the show.

Once inside the Octagon Theatre and seated on large beanbags at the front, her demeanour changed. “Will it be scary?” she asked, looking up at the movable wooden set with its green grass, and fluffy, bulbous tree with windows in each puff. It might have been right out of Dr Seuss’ Lorax, a comparison which became more marked as the story commenced.

Once the three narrators and puppeteers were on stage, however, my daughter’s face lit up. This engaging trio  both run the show and blend into the background when the puppets take centre stage. They seamlessly transport the audience into the world of Mort, his little sister Pop, and an assortment of cute characters who live a life of cosy routine and predictability.

With the sudden arrival of Beep, however, comes a line to strike recognition into the heart of both young and old in the audience: but for markedly different reasons. “Nobody had any answers”, the narrator explains, for Beep’s presence in their world… “so they decided to be afraid”. Children will take this at face value. Many adults, I suspect, can’t help but link it to the stateless and homeless trying to make safe passage through the world, and the hostile reactions with which they are too frequently met. To “decide” to be afraid is a pointed and devastating choice, and it plays out just as badly for Beep, shivering and frightened in the storm.

Of course, Beep makes a friend in Mort, and by the end of the play she has found her new forever home with him. On the journey there the creatures discover that she has a lot to offer their community, especially when she turns an already delicious “molly melon” into an even tastier cake. Later, she uses the last of her battery power to save Pop, who is stuck up in the tree.

We are aware from the start that each day Beep’s battery, viewable through a series of lights on her belly, is dwindling. In another beautiful twist to contemporary turmoil, it is recharged through a tiny windmill placed on her head, powered through a surge of wind that is provided by the audience flapping their arms. By this point we have already learned that Beep was forced to leave her home planet because it “started to darken, and it wasn’t safe to stay”. (I don’t think I have to spell out the contemporary links here).

These darker themes are not overt, not preachy, and not necessarily even at the heart of this gentle, fantastically staged story. But they are undeniably present, and I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to see Beep as a climate refugee, showing her new community that she brings worlds of experience to benefit them. Monosyllabic, tolerant Mort is summed up well by one of the closing lines: “There’s room in Mort’s heart for everyone, old friends and new.”

“I want it again!” said my daughter as we left the auditorium. If Beep should fly into Perth another day, I think we will definitely be up for a second viewing. I just hope her words of warning will carry a less urgent sting by then.

Beep plays Sunday 13 October, at 9.30am, 11.30am and 2pm.

Top image: Luke Cardew

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Angela Ferolla (WA) 1000 to 1, 2019 shapewell fabric and screenprinting ink unique state print 300 x 110cm
News, Reviews, Visual arts

A feast of print

Review: The Fremantle Arts Centre Print Award ·
Fremantle Arts Centre ·
Review by Jess Boyce ·

The Fremantle Arts Centre Print Award, now in its 44th year, is the country’s most prestigious print prize. Attracting over 280 entries this year, the 2019 exhibition displays the work of 56 finalists.

The winning artwork, Gone Fishing East of Faskrudfjordur by Rew Hanks, which also took out the 2019 Burnie Print Prize earlier this year, is a technically brilliant, two-metre-long black and white linocut landscape that reflects on the fact that, despite its beauty the natural world is under threat. The winner sets the tone for the rest of the exhibition which features a strong contingent of representative, black and white illustrations executed in traditional printmaking methods, with many artists also reflecting on the impact of humans on the environment.

Rew Hanks (NSW) Gone Fishing East of Faskrudfjordur, 2018 linocut on paper edition of 50 70 x 200cm
Rew Hanks (NSW), ‘Gone Fishing East of Faskrudfjordur’, 2018, linocut on paper, edition of 50, 70 x 200cm.

Angela Ferolla’s large fabric screenprint 1000 to 1 (pictured top) is one such work. Layers upon layers (1000 to be exact) of deep rich black ink cover the fabric, each layer representing each numbat that remains in the wild. The layers create a densely layered forest of numbats, which at first glance appears to speak more of abundance than a declining population. It is the individual creatures, however, highlighted in quieter moments on the fabric, that are a reminder that a population can be so easily be reduced to one. Poignantly, it is likely that more people will view this work during the Print Award than the number of numbats it depicts.

An unassuming receipt book displayed in a vitrine, Rachel Salmon-Lomas’s Time Horizon: Carbon Book (With Extra Carbon) caught me off guard. Each page of the carbon book “bears a year of her life as both a consumer and a human” by calculating her personal carbon emissions. Almost a self-portrait, the ledger offers a strangely clinical yet ultimately intimate insight into the artist’s life, living arrangements, relationships, diet and travel. Emissions range from “diet: vegetarian” to “one year of emails” and “phone calls to sick parent”. The work is a humble acknowledgement of the impact we have on the environment as individuals and, as Salmon-Lomas states, “a living document for an ever-expanding invoice from the earth”.

Eunice Napanangka Jack (NT) Kuruyultu, 2019 ink on paper edition of 20 printed by Basil Hall Editions 50 x 100cm
Eunice Napanangka Jack (NT), ‘Kuruyultu’, 2019, ink on paper, edition of 20, printed by Basil Hall Editions, 50 x 100cm.

Normally known for her painting, Eunice Napanangka Jack’s layered and expressive mark making is evident in the brilliant deep blue intaglio and screen print Kuruyultu, which took out second prize. Other highlights include the four highly commended works by Mark Dustin, Clare Humphries, Nadia Kliendanze and Julie Mia Holmes, as well Sarah Rodigari’s chorus of diverse voices presented as a five part lithograph and Hiroshi Kobayashi’s Patagraph, a new technique invented by the artist.

Also on display at Fremantle Arts Centre is a survey of screen prints by senior WA artist Harry Hummerston from the City of Fremantle Collection. Created during the 1980s, Hummerston’s prints are richly coloured and full of visual hooks. These two exhibitions are complemented by “And repeat.”, an open studio occupied by a rotation of local printmakers, and “Lending Library”, a reading room of artists’ books created from discarded library stock by members of the community to celebrate the 70th birthday of The City of Fremantle Library.

The Fremantle Arts Centre is currently a printmaking feast that will delight both artists and print enthusiasts, as well as offering insight into this extraordinary varied medium and its relationship to art and communication.

All exhibitions run until November 10.

Pictured top:Angela Ferolla (WA), ‘1000 to 1, 2019′, shapewell fabric and screenprinting ink, unique state print, 300 x 110cm.

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Comedy, News, Reviews, Theatre

A dream show for critics young and old

PICA, 9 October ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

Every now and then a show comes along with a title so long and so accurate that it’s a reviewer’s dream, because there’s nothing much more needs to be said about it.

It’s money for jam.

So here come The Listies, Matt Kelly and Richard Higgins, or, in the spirit of this year’s Awesome Festival, the Orange One (Matt) and the Blue One (Richard). Their show is called Roll On the Floor Laughing So Hard A Little Bit Of Wee Comes Out.

Need I say more?

Not really, but I will (a little bit). Matt and Richard are very funny guys (especially Matt, who’s a loony, but Richard is pretty funny too, for a straight man).

It’s got farts, lots of mess, a costume horse that’s a dinosaur, farting, bubbles, lullabies (of doooooooom), pretend wee and a large emoji poo, misbehaviour of many kinds and farts. All stuff that kids love.

It’s also got the first line from Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, the one about Grigor Samsa waking up one morning to find he’d become an insect, which went right over the heads of the grown-ups in the room but was deeply appreciated by the kids, who all know it by heart.

It’s 50 minutes jam-packed with ecstatic kid’s stuff, and clever as all get-out. Guaranteed to leave the little monsters (4 – 9, I’d guess) exhausted with laughter. And, just maybe, a tiny bit wet.

Junior reviews by Gabriel Bott (10) and Sascha Bott (8)

Gabriel (10)

ROFLSHALBOWCO was made by The Listies – Richard Higgins and Matthew Kelly – a comedy duo from Melbourne, who are funny and interactive with the audience.

ROFLSHALBOWCO is an amazing show for all ages and is great for people to get involved in. It is about Rich and Matt having people over at their house (which is the audience). They have a to-do list that needs to be completed while the visitors are over. Two of the things on the list are already ticked off, but one of them isn’t; Beddy Byes. One problem, Matt doesn’t want to go to bed yet, so he tries to do everything he can, NOT to go to bed.

I don’t have anything negative to say about this show. The Listies’ show had all different possibilities of events that might actually happen in real life. For example, Rich’s plant was growing perfectly well, but Matt’s was just a stick with a leaf stuck to it. You could probably imagine that happening if you got mad your plant wasn’t growing well.

Secondly, it was just plain funny, everything about it was funny. Even their characters were funny. Matt’s voice was funny. Rich’s moustache was funny. The way they made every possible thing into something funny was so clever.

Lastly, I really enjoyed the way they got everyone in the audience to join in. Little kids were getting up on stage and dancing. It was just a great atmosphere to be in. If I was to give a rating out of ten, it would be a 10/10.

Sascha (8)

ROFLSHALBOWCO is a comedy show by Matt Kelly and Richard Higgins, known as The Listies, and was part of the AWSOME Arts Festival. In the show we saw Richard try to help Matt get to sleep because he’s not tired. Somehow, they made all of Richard’s ideas into hilarious jokes. For example, Richard decided to ask people their favourite books for Matt to read, but Matt wrote down funny and silly titles instead of the real ones.

My favourite bit was when Matt was emptying Richard’s tidy, clean and organised sock drawer – he kept saying, “Thank it and send it on its way! Thank it and send it on its way!”

I also liked how Richard told Matt a funny version of Jack and the Beanstalk – Jack and the Beans Talk. Richard’s version was fall of funny twists (such as when Jack touched the golden duck, aliens attacked him).

I really liked the show and think lots of parents and children would love it to.



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Nostalgia, critique… and footy

Review: Graham Miller, ‘playing the man’ ·
Turner Galleries ·
Review by Ted Snell ·

Local photographer Graham Miller is playing the man, quite literally! The joys, anguish, insecurity and wonder of childhood are revisited in his re-creation of the football cards he collected obsessively as a boy.

Born in Hong Kong, Miller arrived in Perth in 1977, aged 10. He desperately wanted to connect with his new community and the example of these heroic footy figures provided role models for belonging. Strong men, focused and determined men, members of a tribe, stoic and resilient. Like his fellow students at boarding school — all trying to fit in, to be liked and accepted — he gathered together his deck of heroes. They provided a template for behaviour, teaching him the rituals of passage toward manhood and guaranteeing that essential connectivity that formed bonds amongst his friendship group and lifetime links to his community.

Everybody wants to belong and in Australia that meant, and still means, belonging to the fraternity of footy. As I write this response to Miller’s wonderful exhibition at Turner Galleries, the radio, television and social media are proclaiming the sacred spectacle of Grand Final Weekend. The last Saturday in September is etched into our calendar as the annual tribal festival of belonging, when emotion is heightened, encouraged, and even celebrated. It is expected that raw emotions will be played out on the couch, in the backyard, and at the pub. This is the arena where men can love their heroes, weep for joy or explode in anger, and also the site where aggression, hatred and physical dominance are condoned. It is all part of the ritual of belonging, an essential alignment with what is expected of a man.

Graham Miller as David Dench, 1975.

In his new series of photographs, Miller becomes his heroes, adopting their mannerisms, absorbing their magical ethos, remaking himself into the man the community expected him to be. With mullet and moustache, steely gaze and hard body, dexterous and full of prowess he is transformed. A nickname appended and framed by a gaudy border emblazoned with the tribe’s name (Collingwood, Geelong, Richmond) he becomes the epitome of rugged masculinity. These footballers were “… hard men chasing an oval ball”, Miller explains, “It was tough to relate. These were the Aussie male heroes to aspire to. They didn’t look much like me”. Whether it is the determined grimace of Geelong’s Michael Turner or the gormless grin of Richmond’s Wayne Primmer, the wry smile of moustachioed “Lethal” Leigh Matthews or “the galloping gasometer” Mick Turner’s threatening glare, he embraces them all. Apart from “choppy” Les Fong, he may not have looked like them then, but he does now! The man looks back at his childhood, reconstructing his past and reflecting on his transition to adulthood.

Is this tongue-in-cheek critique or nostalgic reminiscence? Perhaps both. It is clearly a wistful affection for a period in his past when these garish images had significance and potency, yet these portraits cleverly mesh with a wry humour that acknowledges the simple, even comical representation of the subject’s iconic status. As a consequence, they help to undermine some of those ingrained ideals of Australian masculinity that many young men from diverse backgrounds have difficulty reconciling.

Miller is the quintessential chronicler of Australian suburban life, in all its richness and mundanity. This new body of work continues this project by exploiting the ambiguity of images, which, Robert Cook describes as “… the way that all photographs have elements of fabrication and truth-telling”. By mimicking the physical appearance of his childhood heroes, he reveals both the little boy’s awe and fascination for these men while concurrently interrogating how these tropes of masculinity have impacted on his adult self and those of his generation. The unsettling insight he presents to us in this body of work is that we may all be just playing the man we were conditioned to become.

Graham Miller’s ‘playing the man’ runs until October 19.

Pictured top: a selection of images from ‘playing the man’, by Graham Miller.

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Into the minds of young performance makers

WAAPA 3rd Year Performance Making Students, “TILT” ·
Blue Room Theatre, 11 September (programme 1) 18 September (programme 2) ·
Review by David Zampatti and Steven Cohen  ·

It’s tempting to think of WAAPA’s Bachelor of Performing Arts – Performance Making course as a hybrid, a combination of the established dramatic canon – acting, musical theatre, physical theatre, dance, puppetry – but that would misunderstand both its provenance and its contemporary real-world significance.

Shakespeare may be our greatest playwright, but, in his own time and in his practice, he was a theatre maker – writer, director, actor (small parts only) and entrepreneur bundled up into a marketable package.

More significantly today, though, theatre making is a response to the exigencies of paying the rent as a performing artist in these days of feckless and tight-arse funding, distracted audiences and crippling costs; it’s survival elevated to a distinct art form.

This year’s “TILT”, like its predecessors since 2015, is a series of short performances presented over two nights at the Blue Room Theatre. No doubt, like its predecessors, it will throw up ideas-in-waiting that will soon re-emerge on our stages, and no doubt some of them will succeed and some will fail to make the transition from short-form to full-out productions.

What’s more interesting than that, though, is the insight “TILT” gives us into what is occupying the mind of our emerging artists, and how they intend to bring it to the stage.

– DZ

Here are this year’s eleven “TILT” treats:

The Outcast
Directed by Carolina Duca
Devised and performed by Finn Forde, Joel Mews and David Vikman
Three coming out stories neatly woven together with energy and natural humour. Some of the language is a little forced, but the dialogue develops a nice rhythm that sees the piece through its awkward moments.
– DZ

Just Kidding
Written and directed by Sian Murphy
Performed and devised by Murphy, Hannah Davidson and Maddy Lee
The story of motherhood from attempts at conception to waving the brutes goodbye as they leave home is so well-worn it’s surprising there’s a blade of grass left on it, but Murphy and her sidekicks, with the aid of a Stanley Kubrick-sized pregnancy tester have knocked up a bit of ensemble stand-up about it with the great virtue of being seriously funny.
– DZ

Austere and emotional gravitas: ‘You and I’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

You and I
Directed by Bec Fingher
Devised and performed by Shaun Johnston and Linea Tengroth
A pas de deux performed to the prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 is all but wordless and expressionless, but Johnston and Tengroth give it an austere and emotional gravitas and a kind of threat. Not greatly suited to the space or its (lack of) production values, but in the right place and time Johnston and Tengroth’s work could be quite something.
– DZ

Devised and performed by Jennifer Bagg and Hayley Whisson
If no-one had come up with the expression “passive aggressive” they would have needed to for this warp-speed litany of ills personal and universal, real and percieved. That’s fine, but a little restraint at times would have been nice, if only so we could regain our composure.
– DZ

Directed by Mark McDonald
Devised and performed by Jarad Barkla, Jono Battista, Oscar Millar, Lawrence Murphy and Jackson Vaughan
The biggest, and most traditional, of TILT’s first programme plays out around the dongas and wet mess of a FIFO camp somewhere in the North-West. It’s fertile ground for domestic drama, albeit all-male, and the slices of life we see are well drawn and pointed. There’s a nice economy of staging and characterisation, and, while the denouement could have been more effectively handled, there was more than enough there to suggest FIFO could be back.
– DZ

‘FIFO’ could be back. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Devised and performed by Hannah Davidson, Anna Dooley and Bec Fingher
Directorial support by Amelia Burke
Juliet is the story of female actors and the things they go through to prepare themselves for auditions, but also an interrogation of what the powers-that-be deem to be beautiful. Preparing to audition for the role of Juliet, Davidson, Dooley and Fingher examine the isolation and inadequacy faced by those judged not desirable enough. Parodying the ludicrous reality, these three fine actors mimic the casting call with an exuberant and exaggerated aplomb.
– SC

Tall Thing
Directed by Shaun Johnston
Written and performed by Finn Forde
An androgynous silent dancer weaves in and out of a dream. In an intense performance that blurs the boundaries between theatre and contemporary dance, Forde successfully wraps a gentle genuineness with lyrical movement to frame a muddled personality. Thoroughly intoxicating.
– SC

This Heaving Mass
Written and directed by Sian Murphy
Performed by Sam Hortin, Oscar Millar, Lawrence Murphy, Mila Nieman and Haylee Whisson
Another dramatic movement-based work, mixing modern day anxiety with the unease of youth. The choreography is predicated on extremes; elegant, raw, tender and violent. Though at times the piece felt obscure and lacking clarity, at others the performance was powerful.
– SC

‘3°’ weaves together clever set design and movement Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

Directed by Jennifer Bagg
Performed by Fiona MacDonald, Mark McDonald and Linnea Tengroth
A quiet interaction between art and science,  weaves together clever set design, sound and movement to create a tense meditation on climate change and environmental degradation. It’s a tenacious and thorny think piece, which cleverly avoids language to successfully focus upon the urgency of the flailing natural world.
– SC

12 Rounds
Written and performed by Mila Nieman
Life is a boxing match, a sometimes brutal, exhausting Fight Club, in which we throw punches that don’t stick and are punched without notice. Nieman is eloquent and daring in this solo performance that is a fearful mix of high-end anxiety and sweat. The scripting was perfectly matched to the well-tempered performance.
– SC

Written and directed by Laura Liu
Performed by Hannah Davidson, Bec Fingher, Sam Hortin, Shaun Johnston, Lawrence Murphy and Jackson Vaughan
After five reasonably intense performances, a welcome respite arrives in the form of Honey, a boy band lovefest featuring a boy and his myriad of lover(s). What begins as an 80s ironic ode to sweet hip thrusts and air grabs, ends in tears, violence and a single red rose. So much for the respite! Perhaps my favourite short of the evening, with each actor brining their own perspective to the narrative, providing a soft maturity to the production.
– SC

Pictured top is Mia Nieman in her work ’12 Rounds’. Photo: Stephen Heath.

Interrogating the relationship between beauty and power in ‘Juliet’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.
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