Wednesday, 10 October 2012
No Child... by Nilaja Sun, Oct 9 2012 *****
Presented by Theatre Works, Melbourne Festival & Brisbane Festival
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, Oct 9 to 14, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 9
Stars:***** (I'd give it more if I could)
THE ENTIRE AUDIENCE LEAPT TO ITS FEET AS ONE at the end of No Child... by Nilaja Sun. This is one of those rare, theatrical jewels that is so perfectly wrought in every way that it is impossible to fault.
Sun may be alone on stage, but she transforms herself, and transports us into another world, populating the empty space with a parade of eccentric, vividly painted characters, all students and staff at a dysfunctional, uptown New York High School.
This masterly, award-winning performance, directed by Hal Brooks, is a testament to Sun’s theatrical skills as both a writer and a performer, and it balances hilarious, observational character comedy with poignant commentary on the failure of the US public education system to cater for these needy teenagers from Brooklyn.
Miss Sun (a version of the actor herself) is a teaching artist who ambitiously enters Malcolm X High to work with challenging Year 10s to stage a theatrical production of Our Country’s Good, an Australian play about convicts and freedom that is strangely relevant to the kids.
Sun metamorphoses into a limping old man, Janitor Barron, who narrates the story and engages directly with the audience, describing the world of the school and commenting on its shortcomings and peculiarities.
Every teacher’s heart aches for poor Miss Tam, the shy, new teaching recruit who is trampled by the belligerent students, and we are initially horrified by the behaviour of tough, Latino Jose, the uncontrolled outbursts of hyped-up, 18 year-old Jerome, and the seductive sass of Sandrika, the class vamp.
Sun’s timing and delivery are impeccable, her characters uncannily accurate and complete, and her social commentary scathing.
She shifts between characters in a nanosecond, transforming from a West Indian security guard, to brisk Miss Kennedy the principal, to Phillip, the lad, with an impenetrable speech impediment, Chris the awkward geek, then into a girl with rasping asthma.
The successes and failures of the students’ production are reflected in the kids’ lives, the world of the school and the broader community. But the show must go on, and there is a heart-breaking scene when Jerome arrives too late to play his perfectly rehearsed role.
Sun’s performance is not only inspired, solo theatre, but it is also an indictment of the American education system and resonates with those of us who believe that our Australian system is failing our kids too.
By Kate Herbert