Wednesday, 16 September 1998

Rising Fish Prayer, Sept 17, 1998

Rising Fish Prayer by Adam May
 Playbox Theatre Malthouse until October 3, 1998
Review Sept 17, 1998

It seems to be the week of the fish plays with Rising Fish Prayer at Playbox following hard on the heels of Shark Fin Soup at MTC.

The rising fish of Adam May's title relates to the unlikely return of fish to the polluted waters around the fictional Australian "Menzies" gold mine in Papua-New Guinea. Christian missionary style prayers have been the daily fare of the local villagers who have worked the mine for years under a tyrannical lunatic, Captain Melcroft.

When 50-year-old Ken Peterson (Robert Grubb) arrives to take over, he is unaware that his recent double by-pass, divorce from his wife (Janet Andrewartha) and his looming redundancy were a picnic compared to life at "Menzies".

 His dream escape to PNG becomes a nightmare. He faces a workers' rebellion, a closed mine and damning secrets about the death of his predecessor. He cannot escape without risking his life.

Here is a delightful recipe for farce and May, with director Aubrey Mellor, milks the culture clash for all it's worth. Characters are cartoon-like. Robert Grubb  plays Ken with a bluff, lovable coarseness. The dual-culturalism of Sam Tiko, his urbanised secretary, is played by a wry Theo Burns.

 The child-like Christian zeal of Ubuku, a uniformed volunteer who leads daily prayers, is a perfect foil to Ken's gruffness. Ubuku is played with relish by the adorable Kilori Susuve, from Playbox's co-production company, The Performing Arts Troupe of PNG.

Tiko is protective of his village and his daughter,.Sophie (Dobi Kidu) who has no respect for Ken because he, "Doesn't wear a uniform. Doesn't even make us pray." This is an indictment of our generally paternalistic relationship with PNG as is Sophie's fear of Australian men.

May's narrative is entertaining and potentially provocative but dialogue is repetitive, characters underdeveloped and some clunky dream sequences interrupt the story.

 Often the glib humour undercuts the more serious indictments of Australia's relationship with PNG: colonialism, economic exploitation and personal abuse. PNG forces are also criticised for hasty, violent action; shades of Bougainville.

This play was the winner of the Playbox Asialink Playwrighting competition in 1997. Its tropical feel is enhanced by an evocative lighting design by Philip Lethlean and sleek sea-grass set 
design by Trina Parker.

By Kate Herbert

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