News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

A little bit goes a long way

Review: Black Swan State Theatre Company and Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company, Skylab ·
Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA, 18 August ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

1979. It was the best of times.

Sir Charles Court was in his pomp, and under his selective vision, Western Australia was becoming the world’s quarry, and its new Wild West.

While a contented and complacent Wadjela population packed the pubs and the footy for their easy entertainment, fortunes were being made under the benign, indiscriminate gaze of Court’s government by the names that would ultimately bring the whole edifice down.

Not so indiscriminate or benign though, was the treatment of those who didn’t figure in the Court vision; whether it was his phalanxes of police roughing up the custodians of Country at Noonkanbah on behalf of American oil companies, or the neglect of families – especially Indigenous ones – who weren’t part of his big plans.

While the state’s business leaders and journalists loosened their wide ties and played bizarre drinking games over long lunches at the Palace Hotel, battling families in the bush coped with empty fridges and paychecks that came late or not at all.

Families like Nev, Jem, their three kids Amy, Sonia and Nate and their Nan, eking out a bare living outside Esperance, searching for stray bullets around the house so Nev could hunt a roo to supplement their meagre supplies; their mad-as-a-cut-snake Uncle Harvey in the shed with his diagrams and short wave radio, ranting about the Russians, the CIA, and the sky falling.

So when it really does, and bits and pieces of the American space station Skylab crash around them, does it portend change, and, who knows, better times to come?

Man and woman outside a corrugated iron shed
There’s genuine frisson between Alan Little and Laila Bano Rind, as Nev and Jen. Photo: Dana Weeks.

It’s the jumping-off point for the playwright Melodie Reynolds-Diarra’s phantasmagoria of dreams fulfilled and desires delivered, a candy store of wonders for the little family.

A new world where Weetbix turns into Fruit Loops and stray cats become pink ponies. Where diamonds are as big as the Ritz, and Elvis performs the marriage rite in the Chapel of Love.

Where debts are erased, the old boss comes up with wads of cash he’s withheld – along with an apology for stealing the land – and a Blackfella gets served first in the general store.

It’s a bit silly, but it’s a bit exhilarating, and there are real messages underneath all the fun and games.

Unfortunately – and it’s a real shame – Skylab seriously overstays its welcome.

Three children dressed as astronauts
Charm and energy: Benjamin Narkle, Juliette Laylan & Liani Dalgetty. Photo: Dana Weeks.

There’s genuine frisson between Alan Little and Laila Bano Rind, as Nev and Jen, and charm and energy from Juliette Laylan, Benjamin Narkle and the wonderfully sparky Liani Dalgetty as the kids (they alternate with Eva Bartlett, Donnathia Gentle and Jacob Narkle in the roles).

There are some nifty effects from set designer Matthew McVeigh and vision designer Mia Holton, and some effective cat-herding from director Kyle J Morrison and his associate Ian Michael, especially in the play’s first act.

But it all goes on way too long, and becomes far too trivial and self-indulgent. Example: a continuing sub-theme revolving around the Japanese cult TV show Monkey is messy, interminable and philosophically confusing.

By the time Skylab gets to the finishing line, its charm and exhilaration have all but dissipated and its messages are obscured.

But the silliness remains pretty much intact.

Skylab plays the Studio Underground until September 2; Karratha September 5 and Carnarvon September 8.

Pictured top: Gary Gooper as Uncle Harvey and Liani Dalgetty as Amy. Photo: Dana Weeks.