Thursday, 17 October 2002

Fire, Fire Burning Bright , Oct 17, 2002

Melbourne Festival  
 by Neminuwarlin Performance Group and Jirrawun Aboriginal Arts

At State Theatre   October 17 - 2, 2002

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Any performance of aboriginal stories on a conventional stage has political echoes. This story, about a white station owner's murder of aboriginal workers, is a minefield.

Fire, Fire Burning Bright  is presented by Neminuwarlin Performance Group and Jirrawun Aboriginal Arts.

It is an elaborate adaptation of a traditional corroboree or Joonba.  

What makes this show vastly different from the original is the incorporation of aboriginal dance, song and performers into a Western narrative form with advanced technology.

In part, this is successful. Of course the production cannot be assessed on any conventional theatre criteria. It is another creature altogether perhaps more closely related to Community Theatre.

Placing traditional aboriginal performance inside a conventional building is strange and often uncomfortable but it may be the only way an urban audience can access these stories.

The sometimes too literal contemporary telling of the story is enhanced by film footage, (Chris Knowles) evocative lighting (Philip Lethlean), and a beautiful realistic set of red rocks, dust and gum trees. (Tony Oliver)

The aboriginal men kill and eat a bullock. They have no understanding of private property nor of white man's 'justice'.

They were shackled by the neck, incarcerated then returned to their station wearing signs around their necks saying "to be killed". The men did not believe helpful travellers who warned them of their fate.

The men were poisoned with strychnine by the stationowner then burned on a funeral pyre fuelled by the wood they had cut. The story is horrifying, brutal and profoundly moving. 

The spirits of the men travel to the sea. We see the relationship between the real and spirit world clearly.

Peggy Patrick  is Creative Director of the show and a Senior Law Woman for her people. The creative collaboration with Andrish Sain-Clare,  Hungarian born actor and musician, culminated in this production which is now touring the country.

After the performance, Peggy told us that this horrific story was performed secretly in a form unrecognisable to the white population because the aboriginal people feared for their lives.

What strikes one is the warmth and charm of the performers, all of whom members of the families from the Kimberley whose ancestors were murdered. This casualness cannot be rehearsed and is not a part of Western theatre.

By Kate Herbert

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