Saturday, 19 September 2009

Attract/Repel by Melbourne Town Players ***1/2

Store Room, Nth. Fitzroy, Sept 19 to Oct 10, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2

The four actors in Attract/Repel have all experienced racism in their lives. We hear their very personal stories in this performance devised with director, Ming-Zhu Hii. They reveal some painful and some hilarious moments and their interaction is warm, honest and natural. The outcome is a charming, moving and challenging show.

The backgrounds of the four are diverse. Jing-Xuan Chan came to live in Australia from Hong Kong as a baby. She does not use an anglicised name but identifies much of the time as an “ABC”, what she calls “Australian Born Chinese”. Terry Yeboah is a tall, elegant, young African-Australian man who immigrated from Ghana in his late primary school years.

Fanny Hanusin is a young, Chinese-Indonesian woman who came to Melbourne University to study Economics and stayed. Hanusin quips that sometimes she feels like a FOB, “Fresh off the Boat”. Georgina Naidu, who has one Indian-Malay parent and one Celtic parent, says wryly that she was born in the Frankston Hospital.

They are all Australian but all have tales to tell about surprising, shocking or watershed moments when they confronted mindless racism. “I don’t want a wog touching my food,” said a bigot to Naidu. “There’s a nigger at the door,” shouted a woman about Yeboah when he was collecting for a charity. Chan’s “white” friends sometimes affectionately but thoughtlessly call her “Little Chink” and she feels that she cannot complain.

Director, Ming-Zhu Hii, keeps the staging simple and intimate. Dramatic moments are accented by Damien McLean’s stark, coloured, fluorescent tube lighting. We are close to the actors. They become our friends in such a small space. They enter carrying a suitcase and introduce themselves. Over the hour, using chalk, they carefully fill the entire wall behind them with lists of racist epithets. Each is like a new poisoned barb.

We, the middle-class, ever-so-slightly smug audience, sympathise and groan at the knuckle-headed ignorance of our fellow countrymen and –women, then wriggle uncomfortably, checking our memories for moments when we, too, have used the wrong language, teased someone or reacted inappropriately.

By Kate Herbert

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