Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Yibyung. Company B & Malthouse, Nov, 4, 2008 ***1/2

By Dallas Winmar, Company B & Malthouse Theatre
Beckett Theatre, Malthouse, Nov 4 to  16, 2008

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 4, 2008


Published in Herald Sun in Nov 2008

 Yibiyung, by Dallas Winmar, is a poignant story about Lily (Miranda Tapsell), an aboriginal child taken from her family early in the 20th century. Her journey takes her from childhood with her mother (Jada Alberts), baby brother and Uncle (David Page) in her homeland to mission schools then to her work as a domestic servant.

Wesley Enoch’s production, with an inspired design by Jacob Nash, is performed on a stage empty except for one enormous tree. The space feels expansive because the vast Australian sky is replicated in clusters of white chalk stars drawn on black walls and lit by ultra-violet lights.

It is difficult to tell an entire life story on stage so Winmar compresses the story of Lily to encompass the years from just before she was stolen to just after she went into service at 16. There is a simple beauty in the first half of the play and the Lily’s family life is portrayed with joy and sensitivity.

Stars, or “djindi” as she calls them, are central to the tale, providing a backdrop to Lily’s life. Her mother’s story about the birth of the Southern Cross is compelling when told in her tribal language and later in English. Five women escape from male violence to find freedom in the sky as stars. Freedom is Lily’s aim throughout the story.

David Page, as Lily’s Uncle (“Kongkan” in her language), has charm, humour and warmth. Her relationship with her Uncle calls Lily home throughout her exile in the white man’s world. It is the grief of a child being taken from family that makes the first half of the play so moving.

The petite and pretty Tapsell makes believable her transition from playful child to distressed, rebellious teenager then to polite servant with a desire to escape. The ensemble of nine provides the rest of Lily’s world. Melodie Reynolds is heart-rending as Djindi, the nameless child who does not know her family. Jimi Bani is delightfully physical as the high-spirited boy, Smiley.

Several characters represent the diverse views of the white community that controlled Lily’s life. Sibylla Budd is luminous as the tragic, well meaning but finally destructive Lady. Russell Dykstra is versatile in multiple roles: kind but powerless policeman, patriarchal and abusive doctor and innocuous farmer.

The simplicity and truth of Lily’s tale of imprisonment and freedom makes a touching play.

By Kate Herbert

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