Review: Exhale (Black Birds / Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 9 – 13, 2019
Creators & Cast: Ayeesha Ash, Emele Ugavule

Theatre review
They live in Sydney, but they struggle to call it home. Ayeesha Ash is Māori Grenadian, and Emele Ugavule is Tokelauan Fijian. Their work Exhale relates to the sense of displacement that many experience in the metropolis, and the questions inevitably raised about background and origin, when examining notions of belonging. The artists identify in each other, the alienation that results from complex historical and ongoing operations of colonialism. They connect through a yearning for indigeneity, and it is this reclamation of cultural roots, that forms the substance on which, we too, can connect.

A thoughtful compilation of audio recordings and visual projections, help us visualise the women’s longing, but it is their very presence, as individuals and as a pair, that speak most saliently. Ash and Ugavule are compelling performers, both captivating with everything that they bring on stage. Their fifty-minute presentation is enjoyable and though-provoking, but explorations in Exhale have a tendency to feel too polite. The production is gentle, with moments of tenderness that are genuinely beautiful. Its spirit is evident, but it feels contained, perhaps hesitant with what it wishes to reveal.

Ash and Ugavule speak with their elders, who prove to be evasive, intentionally forgetful in their efforts to get on with life. We see in the young women, a frustration and a disquiet perhaps, but we wonder if a more urgent anger, could be helpful in the advancement of their stories. Not many of us are natural soldiers, but there are aggressors who will come to violate those who are peaceful, and when push comes to shove, one has to find the warrior within, even just for a brief theatrical sojourn.

www.black-birds.net

Review: Brown Skin Girl (Black Birds / Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jan 29 – Feb 9, 2019
Playwrights: Ayeesha Ash, Emily Havea, Angela Nica
Director: Ayeesha Ash
Cast: Ayeesha Ash, Emily Havea, Angela Nica

Theatre review
Three mixed-race women offer their perspectives as young Australians living while brown. In Brown Skin Girl, creators Ayeesha Ash, Emily Havea and Angela Nica are themselves on stage, delivering autobiographical accounts of challenges faced by women of colour, on a land that although never was ceded to white colonists, has had to struggle with racism since the very dawn of European invasion. The work arises from dark experiences, but it is a passionate and brilliantly joyful encounter that results, featuring anecdotes, observations and sheer poetry that aim not only to bring light to what is normally repressed, it proves to be immensely uplifting, especially for those of similar backgrounds.

The women have fathers who are African-American and Cherokee, Grenadian, and Tongan, so their appearance makes them a target, of constantly being othered in a society that never fails to exert its whiteness, no matter how much we call out its illegitimacy. This absurdity is effectively transposed into comedy, and the show is uproariously funny, with all its subversive and critical denunciation of the prejudices being perpetuated on people of colour. Ash, Havea and Nica are extremely appealing personalities, warm and effervescent, charming even when dispensing their most cutting beratements. Their chemistry is honed to perfection, on a stage replete with fiery, feminine confidence.

As people of colour, we need to be the ones to lead this nation’s discussions on race. The project of dismantling white supremacy in our spaces and structures, simply cannot be left to the powerful. We need to remember that there is little incentive for them to change the way things are, even as they profess a seemingly genuine desire to help better our communities. We must stop being fearful of radical thought and action, and at the same time, learn to manipulate these broken systems to our advantage. This will require our coming together, our refusal to be kept apart by a white patriarchy that benefits from our fractured and dispersed existences. Brown Skin Girl is a rare moment in Australian theatre, that does not imagine a white audience; it dares to speak to its own, and for once, the minorities in the audience feels seen. This is the beginning of empowerment, where hopes can begin to turn into reality.

www.black-birds.net