Tuesday, 28 May 1996

Seven Stages of Grieving , May 28, 1996

Co-written by Wesley Enoch & Debra Mailman
 Next Wave Beckett Theatre from May 28, 1996
Reviewed by Kate Herbert on May 28, 1996

Please see The Seven Stages of Grieving! It is a sensitive monodrama with slides which touches a poignant and distressing minor chord about death and grief like no other show, except perhaps William Yang's Sadness.

Working under the umbrella of Brisbane-based Kooemba Jdarra Indigenous Performing Arts (supported by ATSIC, Arts Queensland, Australia Council), director, Wesley Enoch, with co-writer and solo performer, Debra Mailman devised a piece with heart. It does not preach about aboriginality. It does not romanticise or attack. Any shame and guilt we might feel as a white audience is self-induced  - and we do feel it.

Enoch's research integrates Kubler Ross's five stages of dying and seven phases of Aboriginal history: dreaming, invasion, genocide, protection, assimilation, self-determination and finally and most recently, reconciliation. "Don't tell me we haven't always been fighting," but "Everything has its time" and the time for reconciliation is now.

Mailman is a warm and charming presence on stage with a capacity to engage and transform into a range of characters and styles. She performs a beautifully unified collage of stories, scenes, poems, aboriginal chants and even a stand-up routine about being black.

Her journey through her own familial, cultural and racial grief becomes ours. The performance is intimate. We cannot distance ourselves from this as from a news item or social issue. Here is a young aboriginal woman telling us about her grief and her joy, her family and her people. When she asks, " Are you with me?" we all mumbled, "Yes".

The design by Glenn Francis incorporates a suspended block of ice which melts and drips like tears into a grave of red sand. Duncan King-Smith's montage of natural sounds is an indispensible element.

She powerfully demonstrates disenfranchisement with a pile of sand. Groups of people huddle around the land, all surrounded by a ring of culture and language. Take the children out of the ring and they have no land, no culture, no family, no identity. "Are you with me?" Loudly, "Yes!"
KATE HERBERT     28.5.96      320wds

Saturday, 25 May 1996

Burning Time, May 25, 1996

Burning Time by Nicholas Flanagan
 Playbox Merlyn Theatre until June, 1996
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around May 25, 1996

The fault is not in ourselves but in our pasts. Families are blamed for most of our social ills. We were loved to little or too much, abandoned or smothered, too poor or too rich. Parents just can't win. At some point, surely, we must take responsibility for our own lives. Some individuals with appalling childhoods make it out of the mire.

Burning Time, by Nicholas Flanagan, centres around a shattered middle- class Melbourne family. Mother is a viperous alcoholic actress, father a vague, poetry-quoting psychiatrist. There are two sons: Michael, the junkie and Vincent, the composer with ambiguous sexuality plus an aboriginal foster-son (Tony Briggs) and other hangers-on. The narrative does not declare its protagonist until Act Two when the innocent eleven year-old birthday boy, Vincent is shown at his rather more worldly twenty-first birthday.

The play itself is a burning time, running 150 minutes. The most successful moments were its silences during which the sub-text is potent. The aching stillness between the mother (Vivian Garrett) and her old, gay pal, Peter (Robert Grubb) is riveting as they carefully sidestep the real issue, Peter's paedophilia. These still moments were infrequent.

The anger is relentless and tiring. The central characters shout far too much. The cameos (Fiona Todd and Mandy McElhinney) are far easier to watch. We care very little about any of this family. They remain unpleasant and unredeemable in spite of the upbeat ending.

There is potential for a poignant and affecting narrative here but it is clouded by speechifying and overstated social issues. A times the dialogue sounds like a list of information about characters for the benefit of the audience. The play has too many words by half and lacks a sound dramatic structure.

Performances are strong. Garrett's portrayal of Kel's decline from prima donna to alcoholic is sympathetic. Grubb has a quiet dignity as the rather distasteful gay friend. It is ironic and unfortunate that the most likeable character is the most corrupt. Vince Collossimo is vigorously physical as Michael and Schluesser powers through the fraught role of Vincent.