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.
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.
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.
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.
Review: IllUMEnate, Layla Majnun ⋅
Subiaco Arts Centre, October 2 ⋅
Review by Varnya Bromilow ⋅
First it was stories around the campfire, then it was books, then radio serials, then films, then television, then webisodes on YouTube. The history of storytelling can also be read as a history of our diminishing attention spans. Where once we had the ability to focus on a single speaker, our contemporary brains have become accustomed to the sort of dazzling clutter our antecedents could never have imagined.
Is my judgement leaking off the page? I lament this diminishment. Which is why I was excited to get along to the Subiaco Arts Centre this week to see Layla Majnun, a unique storytelling event produced by Performing Lines WA. Billed as the greatest love story ever told, Layla Majnun is a traditional Persian story of love and separation. In this world premiere, scholar and performer Feraidoon Mojadedi, together with local group IllUMEnate, tells the tale of two star-crossed lovers in a bare-bones, stripped-back production that has far more in common with stories around the campfire than with any webisode.
Perhaps as a counterpoint to the sparseness of the production, the preamble to show was decidedly elaborate. The foyer of the Arts Centre was threaded with fairy lights, plump cushions for sitting strewn across the floor. The savoury scent of Persian foods filled the air, courtesy of a food van parked out front. Headscarves and platform heels; Converse and saris; a riot of colour. The capacity crowd was buzzing — snapping selfies in front of the elaborate decorations, enjoying the virtuosic sitar playing, chattering in anticipation.
Finally, as the lights went up, delicate Farsi script projected onto six pillars faded into obscurity. Mojadedi appeared alone on the stage, eager, but perhaps slightly nervous, to begin his hour-long tale. Mojadedi has a rich voice that carries easily and although some of his pacing was a little stilted, the story felt naturally told, intimate.
The straight narrative is interwoven with chanting of Farsi and it was during these interludes that Majodedi seemed most comfortable. The soothing rhythm of the language created an almost musical tonal switch and a welcome diversion to the bare simplicity of the story. For the first half hour I felt transported, carried gently along by the tale. Excerpts of poetry from Rumi and other Persian poets were projected onto the six pillars, each moved into place by Mojadedi as another section of the story was completed.
But by the second half of the performance I was ashamed to find myself yearning for a more varied aesthetic experience, for a more compelling narrative pull. Layla Majnun is not a story with twists and turns; there is little suspense drawing us forward. While the delivery is soothing, the lack of visual elements seemed a lost opportunity. Some of the projections were genuinely beautiful (the animated projections were particularly gorgeous) but I found myself wondering why director James Berlyn had not chosen to make more use of these elements to illustrate, ornament the narrative?
By the latter half Layla Majnun felt like a challenge to contemporary audiences: we know you’re used to spectacle so let’s see if you can keep focus with all the trimmings stripped away? It might have worked too, were the story a more varied one than a simple tale of thwarted love. If there had been a less predictable, less expected narrative outcome the audience would have had no trouble keeping faith. But as it was, the story alone was simply not engaging enough to keep the keen audience onside. In their eagerness to be entertained in a more conventional manner, some of the audience laughed at inopportune moments — at times it seemed a desperate response to the one-note earnestness of the performance.
It’s a commendable task — to bring a traditional story from another culture to broader audiences. And I admit that my failure to be satisfied with the simplicity of the staging may be an indictment on my own attentional deficits more than anything else. But I just wish Layla Majnun had felt more like an invitation to share in a new experience, rather than a gauntlet thrown down.
It’s notoriously difficult to attract new audiences into our theatre spaces but it’s also absolutely vital if performing art-forms are to thrive in our increasingly digitalised world.
With its latest production, Layla Majnun, Performing Lines WA (PLWA) is leading the way in terms of diversifying audiences. Nina Levy caught up with PLWA’s Zainab Syed and Cecile Lucas to get the lowdown on the organisation’s exciting new approach to audience development.
Layla Majnun is one of the world’s oldest surviving stories.
And so, while it may be new to some sections of the WA community, for others it is an old friend.
It’s this mix of old and new that is one of the reasons Performing Lines WA (PLWA) has chosen to present a new translation of the classic Persian tale here in Perth, explains the organisation’s producer Zainab Syed. Directed by James Berlyn, this production of Layla Majnun, which will be presented at Subiaco Arts Centre from October 2-5, brings together emerging artists from diverse cultural backgrounds and pairs them with experienced local artists.
Likened to Romeo and Juliet, Layla Majnun was written by a poet called Nizami in the 12th century, and tells the story of two young people, Layla and Qays, who are from different Persian tribes. “They meet when they’re quite young and form a bond of friendship that then leads to love but for circumstances pertaining to tradition and family they aren’t ever together,” says Syed. “As Qays grows up, his love for Layla intensifies and he begins to be called Majnun which means madman… the story basically follows their life and how Majnun exiles himself into the desert. And eventually they both die which is not a spoiler… it’s just the Romeo and Juliet of the East.”
Though the story is Persian, it has been claimed by many different cultures, says Syed. “You’d be hard pressed to go to any Islamic country and find people who do not know about Layla Majnun… from Morocco to Turkey to Pakistan to Malaysia… each culture thinks that it’s theirs.”
It is the hope of the PLWA team that, by presenting a story so beloved by so many, they will draw new audiences to Subiaco Arts Centre and to the work of PLWA, whilst also exposing established theatre-goers to a new story.
As anyone who works in the arts knows, however, attracting new audiences is no mean feat. The story choice is just one of many strategies that the team is using to ensure that this production is attractive and accessible to members of Perth’s Muslim community who are not regular theatre attendees.
One of the big drawcards, in terms of attracting these new audience members, is that this translation of Layla Majnun is written and narrated by renowned US-based Farsi scholar and storyteller Ustaadh Feraidoon Mojadedi. His involvement in the work has created “quite a buzz in the Muslim world”, not just locally but internationally, says Syed. “When Usaadh Feraidoon came to Perth for the first creative development of Layla Majnun I was mindful that the Muslim community might feel that they needed to have access to him as well. So I held a storytelling night with him at Subiaco Arts Centre. I literally just put a quick event up on Eventbrite and shared it over email and on Facebook. Within a day it was sold out.
“On the night, Subiaco Arts Centre was full of such a diverse audience… 70 percent of those people had never been to Subiaco Arts Centre before.”
“On the night, Subiaco Arts Centre was full of such a diverse audience… 70 percent of those people had never been to Subiaco Arts Centre before.” Importantly, Syed emphasises, the bar was not open that night, out of respect for Muslim dietary laws.
Though the storytelling night was not related to Layla Majnun, it seeded an idea in Syed’s head about how she might promote the show. “When Ustaadh Feraidoon came back to Perth the following year for another development of the work, my brain started thinking a little bit more strategically than it had the first time. And so again I created an event. It sold out and then had to move to the main auditorium and that sold out as well. At that event I printed postcards that just said “Layla Majnun, coming soon” just kinda putting something in their brains.
One revelation, for Syed, was that she had drawn so many people to a venue they had never previously visited. “It wasn’t about the venue,” she observes. “It was about who you were putting in the venue and how you were making sure that the venue served their needs. So if I had the bar open the first time, a lot of those people would have been pretty uncomfortable to come back the second year.”
From here, Syed and PLWA marketing and project co-ordinator, Cecile Lucas, created focus groups within the Muslim community to find out more about why people might choose to go to a particular venue… or not. “When we mentioned that the bar would be closed, that we would have some prayer rooms, Halal food, music and entertainment, those things really resonated with them,” Lucas observes.
“When we mentioned that the bar would be closed, that we would have some prayer rooms, Halal food, music and entertainment, those things really resonated with them.”
Lucas has also been working to create a suite of activities that will run before the show to introduce audiences who aren’t familiar with Layla Majnun to the story. “We offer them different entry points to Layla Majnun. We’ve come up with five activities that will be held in a foyer before the show,” she elaborates. “Some activities are just fun and simple and some are a bit more profound. But I don’t want to say more because I want it to be a surprise.”
There will also be workshops based on Muslim culture on offer, she continues. “We’re having a calligraphy workshop and henna tattooing, both run by local Muslim artists. We’re also planning an exhibition with three local Muslim artists, Hadia Bangash, who is also Layla Majnun’s illustrator, Azadeh Yekta, who does Persian calligraphy art and Zara Azimi, who does Persian miniature paintings.
“So there is a full program of activities and entertainment before and after the show including music, food trucks with halal food, activities…”
It all sounds very enticing… and that’s the point. “We’re creating an experience and that experience doesn’t just start when you step inside the main auditorium but from the moment you enter the Subiaco Arts Centre.”
It all sounds very enticing… and that’s the point. “We’re creating an experience and that experience doesn’t just start when you step inside the main auditorium but from the moment you enter the Subiaco Arts Centre,” says Syed. “The feedback from our focus groups said that older uncles aren’t really interested in theatre shows. But if there’s other stuff going on that has more of a festival vibe they’re more likely to come together and that’s how can we incentivize whole families to come.
“And the other really real thing for me is that brown communities – and I can say this because I am a brown person from that community – we don’t keep time and everyone rocks up late and you know and if something starts at 7.30pm, everyone will show up at 8pm. But this is a theatre show and we have to start on time. So we’ve tried to find inventive ways of encouraging people to come early and one of them is having food and entertainment and activities beforehand.”
In addition to the focus groups, Lucas and Syed have also been liaising with Metropolitan Migrant Resources Centre, Ishar Multicultural Women’s Health Services andAssociation to Torture and Trauma Survivors to organise funding for 100 subsidised tickets for people from refugee and new migrant communities, for whom the cost of the ticket and logistics of transport might otherwise be a barrier to attendance. “We’re doing a matinee performance for them, providing them with buses and separate creche and Friday prayers afterwards,” says Syed. “It will be a relaxed performance, so people can come in and out, whereas the rest of the season is strict lockout. It’s about long-term thinking, about identifying groups who are not able to access theatre normally and working out how we can start to include them in in our art spaces.”
Listening to Syed and Lucas talk about the various ways in which they are reaching out to new audiences, it is clear that they are passionate about this work. What’s even more impressive is that Layla Majnun is just one example of the work that Performing Lines WA is doing to reflect the diversity of stories and experiences amongst artists and audiences in Australia. The organisation has a long history of working with Sensorium Theatre, who make works for children with disabilities. In November, PLWA will be presenting another cross-cultural work, Gui Shu, which sees WA director Sally Richardson working with artists from Taiwan and Australia.
“Through our work on Layla Majnun, and with artists like disability theatre-makers Sensorium Theatre and Sally Richardson’s upcoming intercultural work Gui Shu, we are making good on our promise to change what theatre and the audiences who attend it can look like,” remarks Syed.
And they’re showing that a small team can make a significant difference.
Review: The Last Great Hunt, Perpetual Wake ·
Subiaco Arts Centre, 31 August ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·
Presented by local outfit The Last Great Hunt and directed by Gita Bezard, Perpetual Wake takes the darkest elements of humanity – falseness, lies, abuse of power and the urge to destroy – and turns them into a richly layered farce that comments ironically on the nature of culture, art and the cult of personality.
Written by Bezard and Jeffrey Jay Fowler, the narrative is engaging without being overly complicated; a story of a young women who has written a debut novel (Perpetual Wake), the pretentious male author-turned-critic who becomes obsessed with her work, and his wife, a romance author whose books, although hugely popular, are not critically acclaimed and are constantly denigrated by her husband.
As the story unfolds, bad behaviour abounds, and it becomes clear that everyone is lying about something. Within this nexus of falsities, the narrative of the play becomes messily entangled with that of the novel, further compelling the audience as well as the characters themselves to question the nature of truth-telling and the impossibility of objective storytelling.
Combining a self-aware, melodramatic narrative with moments of contemplative physical theatre, the play’s visual language is persistently striking, with a simple set design and the recurrence of motifs – antlers, fur, plaid hunting jackets – echoing through the performance. This continuing switch between narrative, plot-driven scenes and dream-like moments of absurdity and unreality effectively pushes the story along, despite the occasionally predictable nature of the narrative. This predictability is not a weakness, rather it’s cleverly woven into the story itself; a comment on the impossibility of writing anything truly unique in contemporary culture, and the reliance upon tropes within “low-brow” genres such as romantic fiction.
The characters themselves are incredibly well realised and outstandingly performed; simultaneously unlikeable yet relatable. There’s a strong undercurrent of feminist reclamation within these characters, as the two female characters, Fiona (Charlotte Otton) and Bernice (Arielle Gray) are both clearly much more intelligent than they are given credit for. This is highlighted by the fact that their “fictional” alter egos, referred to in the women’s’ published works, Veronica and Molly are both deliberately portrayed as laughably shallow and one-note.
In contrast, the male critic Paul (Chris Isaacs) is instantly unlikeable, a stunningly accurate representation of every man I ever encountered in an undergraduate English tutorial, aged by a few decades but unfortunately only in body, not mind. For Paul, it is a personal insult for a woman to be able to write well, and when faced with this reality, he does everything he can to deny it. For him, the truth is more complicated than he can grasp.
In its complex unfolding of the characters’ deceptions to others as well as themselves, layered within a story we’ve heard before but that never fails to engage, Perpetual Wake deftly and hilariously exposes the inherent predictability of human nature.
15-26 October @ Subiaco Arts Centre ·
Presented by Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company ·
Fractured like shards, Cole, Carly and Joy must fight the demons of their past to reclaim their future, but it’s not easy to leave behind the crystal meth plains of Ice Land.
With the flow of jazz, the soul of blues, the energy of electro and the power of funk, Ice Land: A Hip h’Opera uses the language of hip hop to tackle a tough issue currently affecting our society – the plague of methamphetamine use.
Alongside a team that boasts some of Western Australia’s best artists, including Australian hip hop kings Downsyde, WA hip hop queen Layla, multi-disciplinary performer, musician and singer Moana Mayatrix of MOANA, and solo hip hop maestro TROOTH, we explore a very timely subject and ultimately ask the question: if meth use continues to escalate within our communities, what is going to happen to our society as a whole?
Previews: 15 & 16 October
Opening night: 17 October
2-5 October @ Subiaco Arts Centre ·
Presented by Performing Lines WA & illUMEnate ·
Often described as the Romeo and Juliet of the East, Layla Majnun is a powerful and enduring tale of love and separation. Now re-imagined into a solo performance featuring Farsi scholar and storyteller, Ustaadh Feraidoon Mojadedi, the show is created by a team of diverse artists from Western Australia and directed by James Berlyn.
Showcasing poems by Rumi and other poets, this hour-long performance integrates traditional Persian storytelling with contemporary visual projections and original music, bringing this tale to the 21st Century.
Each night, from 6:30pm onwards we will have entertainment and activities for all ages, as well as an exhibition by Muslim artists and food trucks serving halal food. A prayer room is also accessible to everyone and this is an alcohol free event.
28 Aug – 7 Sep @ Subiaco Arts Centre ·
Presented by The Last Great Hunt ·
Our second work in The Last Great Hunt’s 2019 Perth season is Perpetual Wake, written by Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Gita Bezard and directed by Gita Bezard.
Fiona West has written a stunning debut novel: Perpetual Wake. When career maker and breaker Paul Creel reviews the manuscript, he finds his life represented inshocking detail. He finally feels understood.
The impressed Creel invites West for a casual ‘wine and chat’ two days before his review is to be published. But when they meet he discovers the book he considered an elegant insight into the human mind, was intended as a hysterical satire! Creel leaves the meeting determined to ensure that West’s book will be buried before the year is out. But West is a tougher rival than he expects and so a war begins.
From Australia’s hottest theatrical outfit: The Last Great Hunt, comes Perpetual Wake, surreal dark comedy about the depths people sink in order to conceal their shame.
1 – 3 August @ Subiaco Arts Centre ·
Presented by Beyond the Yard ·
This is a story about you, me and the loneliest whale in the world. Five people with five stories unravel the contemporary nature of isolation. Alone in an apartment, in a bustling bar, in the dial tone of a message bank and across the deep blue – waiting for a reply.
52 Hertz uses performance and movement to reach out and touch the empathetic soul of human existence.
Inspired by the true story of 52 Blue – the loneliest whale in the world. This whale first tracked in the late 80s calls out at the abnormal frequency of 52Hz and to this date continues to be tracked as it follows its solo journey across the ocean.
17 – 27 July @ Subiaco Arts Centre ·
Presented by Hand in Hand Theatre Company ·
Secrets, Lies and Love. Everyone has a story…
Hand in Hand Theatre takes on literary genius, Caryl Churchill’s iconic play; Love and Information. Through a series of vignettes, we pull back the curtains and give you a peek into several compelling stories of life, love and human nature. In this fast-moving kaleidoscope, more than a hundred characters try to make sense of what they know.
28 & 29 June @ Subiaco Arts Centre ·
Presented by Voiceworks ·
‘One Heart One Voice’ is an original musical composed for three choirs, soloists, a band and a community radio station. It features the combined abilities of the Voiceworks and VoiceworksPLUS community choirs.
Witness their journey as they rehearse for their Big Sing Competition and deal with issues of young love, remembering their music, a lack of male singers and confidence, fundraising, childminding, old age and bad pianos. If you’ve ever sung in a choir or been part of any community group, then you’ll laugh and cry along with the progress of this wonderful community choir.
Written by Jackson Griggs and Maggie Wilde West
Friday June 28 – 8.00PM
Saturday June 29 – 3.00PM
Saturday June 29 – 8.00PM
Showcasing the talents of soloists Liam Ahul, Jackson Griggs, Kristina Lang, Peter Martis, Gavin Nicklette, Julia Schwab and Maggie Wilde West. Performing on stage are the choirs Voiceworks, VoiceworksPLUS with an audio appearance by Strike a Chord. The performance features a very special guest, Perth entertainment legend Jenny Seaton, Afternoons presenter on Curtin FM.