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A local story of love and courage

Review: Squid Vicious, Cephalopod ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 4 November ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

It never rains but it pours; we have two new, engrossing plays about young Asian women growing up in, and coping with, suburban Perth – Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa’s Fully Sikh and now Jess Nyanda Moyle’s Cephalopod (sadly I missed a third, Doreshawar Khan’s Sharbat, also at the Blue Room).

Their methods are vastly different, but their matter is remarkably similar. Both Moyle, the child of a Filipina mother and white Australian father, growing up in Whitfords, in Perth’s northern suburbs, and Khalsa and her rambunctious Sikh family, ensconced forty kilometres south in Leeming, shared the debilitating oppression of the formidable, and often belligerent, Anglo-Australian culture (microaggressions, as Moyle neatly puts it in her programme notes).

Impressively, though, what comes through in both their stories is their courage, their love for their families and their positivity. Australia gave both of them plenty of reasons to reject it; neither of them did.

This does not mean that they bowed to the pressure of the dominant culture; rather that they expressed their own, and themselves, both through, and despite, it.

Pictured L-R: Jess Nyanda Moyle, Andrew Sutherland, Ramiah Alcantara and Molly Earnshaw. Photo: Mitchell Aldridge

Cephalopod is a play in two very distinct parts. The first is a phantasmagoria whose central conceit is the burgeoning spread of Asian peoples through migration and the thriving lives they lead in their new homes, juxtaposed with the natural history of cephalopods – the squid, the octopus and the cuttlefish (factoid: cephalopods seem to be a rare beneficiary of climate change – their range and numbers increasing dramatically since the ’50s).

There’s some heady – you might say bizarre – stuff goes on in the imagination of the teenaged Moyle as she hangs, lonely, at Whitford City; songs and images, strange associations and a lot of sexy, audacious fun.

Know much about cephalerotica? You’ve come to the right place, boyo.

All this is red meat for Renegade Productions supremo, the everlasting Joe Lui, who cracks the whip on this one. He draws wholehearted, fearless performances from Ramia Alcantara, Molly Earnshaw, Moyle and Squid Vicious co-founder Andrew Sutherland, whose fingerprints are all over the murder weapon as well.

It’s also a sumptuous production despite its basic box set – much credit due to Mia Holton’s dense, antiquarian visuals,  Lui’s complex, aware sound design and Jason Ng Junjie’s lighting.

It all climaxes with a woo-oo-wo-wo-wo-wo-o-o Tagalog singalong of Farnham’s “You’re the Voice” that had us hollerin’ and clapping the cast.

But wait. There was more.

There’s a second act that is a completely different beast, a simple, direct, near-monologue from Moyle, telling the story of her family – here and back in the Philippines; the tough times and good times, her journey to understand herself and her sexuality, and her, ultimately successful, search for self-realisation and love.

White Australia has a habit of congratulating itself for its acceptance of the immigrant. The true stories of these great young women suggest a need to think more carefully about who should be congratulated.

Cephalopod runs until November 14.

Pictured top: Jess Nyanda Moyle. Photo: Mitchell Aldridge.

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