Monday, 10 February 2003

Mavis Goes to Timor, Feb 10, 2003

 Mavis Goes to Timor  
 by Katherine Thomson,  Angela Chaplin  and Kavisha Mazzzella 
 Playbox  and Deckchair Theatre, Perth
Malthouse courtyard 
Feb 10 to March, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Mavis Goes to Timor feels more like a good long chat with a few women than a play. There are various reasons for this. The story is based on the experiences of a mother and daughter, Mavis  and Elwyn  Taylor  from Yarrawonga.

In the play, Mavis (Anne Phelan) announces to her extended family at her 86th birthday party that she is going to East Timor to set up sewing centres for the women.

This is the core of the story. The writers, Angela Chaplin and Katherine Thomson, saw the documentary on SBS of Mavis's trip to the decimated country after its free election. The strength of the play is its truthful telling of the story. As Mavis, Phelan is charming, hearty and courageous.

Mavis herself is cheerful and motivated, undeterred by obstacles. Her only negative moment is the day she arrives in East Timor and sees the devastation of the landscape. The other two actors are also compelling. As Elwyn, Kerry-Ella McAullay  is delightfully cranky and opinionated.

 Her country ways, blunt speech and impatience endear her to us as she fights for the women of Timor. McAullay's singing voice is rich and melodic. Each song she sings is rivetting.

As the Timorese woman, Mariana,  Cidalia Pires  grabs our hearts. She reveals to us the indescribable loss, grief and near annihilation of these people. She represents their grim determination to survive and never to hand over their homeland.

Her speech about tossing her child over a razor wire fence in the United Nations  compound to save him is a glimpse into the desperation that drove these people.

Traditional Timorese songs are interspersed with original songs written by Kavisha Mazzella  and performed by Mazzella with Marco Quiroz  and a choir of about fifty.

The music underscores the dialogue that is further enhanced by original video footage of the Timorese (Nancy Jones). Huge yellow containers create the flexible set designed by Michael Betts.  

This is a play in the style of the 1980's political theatre pieces. It is didactic and overtly political. The actors frequently talk directly to us in long speeches. Its message is clear: We abandoned the Timorese who helped us in the World War II.  It is time we came to their aid.

By Kate Herbert

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