Wednesday, 23 August 2006

Yanagai! Yanagai! MWT, Aug 22, 2006

Yanagai! Yanagai!
by Andrea James, Melbourne Workers Theatre
 North Melbourne Town Hall 
Aug 22-26. Portland Aug 29, Shepparton Aug 31, Echuca Sept 1, Upwey Sept 8, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 22, 2006

Yanagai, in the Yorta Yorta language of the Murray River (Dhungula) region, means “Go away!” One can presume it was frequently used when the white squatter, Sir Edward Curr, arrived in the region in 1841.

Since 1860, the Yorta Yorta people have continued to fight in courts for land rights for their tribal lands in the Murray region. Consistently, their claims were denied, most recently in 2003 in the Hight Court. It took nineteen seconds, says the play, to deny thousands of years of history.

At present a claim is being prepared for the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

The play depicts 150 years of failed claims, degeneration of the land through farming and drought, maltreatment of the Yorta Yorta by the white justice and welfare systems, families separated and tribal sites ignored.

Despite these negative issues the play, written and directed by Andrea James, is entertaining with a definite edge of hope.

Such a play serves the educational purpose of reminding us of issues surrounding aboriginal land claims so we can choose to forgive some of its artistic limitations.

James’ script draws together the stories of Uncle Albert (Tony Briggs/bryan Andy OK), the spirit called Munarra (Lisa Maza), Edward Curr (David Adamson) and the High Court hearing in 2003.

The most affecting and effective thread is Uncle Albert’s story that reveals his passion for his country. Briggs plays old Albert sympathetically. We are moved by memories of his “stolen” childhood, of his little sister, Amy’s (Lou Bennett) drowning when she tried to escape the welfare and we are entertained by his enduring obsession with catching the giant Murray cod.

Witnessing Albert facing the High Court highlights the judicial rigidity and lack of understanding of the values of the Yorta Yorta.

Curr is depicted two-dimensionally as a cold, cruel white invader. Little is learned of him because he is merely a symbol for colonial abuse of power.

The spirit, Munarra and her canine protectors (Bennett and Andy) provide some insight into the creation story of the Dhungula River but the portrayal of the tale looks too much like a children’s play.

Philip Lethlean’s lighting, with Adrienne Chisholm’s design that was inspired by Lin Onus’s artwork, create a soothing world of river and trees.

The staging and direction lack physicality and imagination but the production is thought-provoking and urges action.

By Kate Herbert

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