Review: Which Way Home (Ilbijerri Theatre Company)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jul 4 – Aug 4, 2018
Playwright: Katie Beckett
Director: Rachael Maza
Cast: Katie Beckett, Kamahi Djordon King
Images by Snehargho Ghosh

Theatre review
Tash and her father are on a road trip to Lightning Ridge. Even though Tash is the one behind the wheel, she is jittery and hesitant, while her father is at peace, completely trusting that they are going to reach their destination with no troubles at all. Katie Beckett’s Which Way Home is a tender work about the father-daughter relationship, and a look at the ageing process. Young and old are placed in contrast with one another, for an appreciation of the way we mature, and for the value that elders embody in our communities. At its best, the play contains profound observations about family that are rarely articulated in our art, but a tendency to mollify the harder questions about kinship, results in a reduction of poignancy with what is being delivered.

Directed by Rachael Maza, the show feels warm and buoyant, and whether or not we are able to identify with its characters, an effortless charm from both actors keeps us engaged in their journey. Beckett takes on the role of Tash, proving herself a detailed performer adept at telling stories with remarkable clarity. Kamahi Djordon King is an affable presence, with an inviting sense of humour that wins us over. A more naturalistic approach to acting would provide a more authentic experience, but the pair brings a beautiful energy to the piece that many will find reassuring.

Life’s lessons require time. Words of wisdom can be spoken but they are not always heard. It is perhaps our greatest weakness, that the young are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past, but nature will have its way and insist that we let it take its course. Tash learns all she can from her father, but she can only take things at her own pace. We all have a duty to leave this a better place than how we had found it, and the older we get, the more salient that notion becomes. The children must be taught the best we know how, and we can all but hope that things do keep getting better.

www.ilbijerri.com.au

5 Questions with Katie Beckett and Kamahi Djordon King

Katie Beckett

Kamahi Djordon King: How do you feel about playing back on home turf at the Seymour centre with a different actor in the role of Dad?
Katie Beckett: I am so excited to be playing back in Sydney. I love Sydney. The west and the inner west are my hoods. I was born out in Western Sydney, went to primary school there in north St Mary’s. Moved to QLD, then moved back. And as an adult lived around the inner west, Redfern, Newtown, Enmore, Glebe and now Lilyfield. So Sydney holds a special place in my heart. The last time I did the show in Sydney it was part of the Sydney Festival at Belvoir and we smashed it out of the park. Sold out with an extra week. 

I love working with Kamahi as Dad. My dad even loves Kamahi as playing him. Kamahi brought a breath of fresh air to the character, love and comedy to the role. Professional and easy going to work with. It’s been a dream having him.

Has the end result of the work surpassed your expectations on how the work is received by audiences?
Yes!! I’m surprised for me it was just a little family yarn. A way of healing and coping with dad’s fifth heart attack. So I write with heart. And it’s beautiful seeing the audience take it.

Question to the writer. What are three things you would change about your character and why?
Considering it’s my first play and I now have a bit more experience of writing I would change my character to be softer in moments. And make her grow up a bit more. I find her annoying and childish at times. But I also did that to get the comedic elements to work with the dad.

What did you see yourself doing at this age twenty years ago?
I saw myself working in the camera department in film and tv industry. I dreamed of being a cinematographer. But here I am an actor and writer for theatre, film and tv.

What has the impact been on you as an actor with a new person stepping into the dad role? 
The impact has been fantastic and I found things I discovered before in my character. I have a different connection with Kamahi so it’s easier to do.

Kamahi Djordon King

Katie Beckett: Were you worried about coming into a role that has already been played by another actor?
Kamahi Djordon King: I was a little at the start until I figured you and Rachael were not expecting me to be exactly the same as the other actor. 

What made you say yes to taking on this role?
It was going to be my first tour with an Ilbijerri produced play and I though it would be nice to work on a tour again.  Especially a long tour like this.  Plus it was an affirmation that I was getting older and playing someone’s dad is the best thing for that, as an actor challenge-wise I mean. 

I’m impressed with you learning the script in 2 weeks. Can you share your secret to learning and developing your character in a short time?
Yes, the honesty and truth of the character comes from the physicality of the actions.  The memories are created by rehearsing the script up on the floor.  It is almost like muscle memory with dancers.  After a while the lines sink in together with the actions of the character and a memory is created so that when you are doing the play, the memories become your inner monologue and you deliver your lines with their actions creating honesty or truth.  I learned this from The Actors Workshop in Brisbane with Lynn Kidd.

I hear you are close to Constantina Bush. Any chance she will pop up along the tour? Has she said anything about the show?
Yes, we are close although very much in competition with each other all the time.  I think she said she is popping in to do shows in Mildura and Canberra. She reckons she will try to catch the show at one of those places although I wouldn’t count on it.  She has never once seen one of my shows.  Nor I hers for that matter… 

You are a true artist… writer, actor, singer, dancer, painter, female impersonation. And do it all incredibly well. And always in demand. How do you manage to balance all your artistic ventures?
The balance seems to happen naturally, very rarely do I double book, although it has happened. The art is something that keeps me busy when either of us has no work.  The visual art side of things is something that I have been doing for a long time and it does sell which keeps me in money when the performance side is quiet.  I come from a family of artists so that is natural. The performance is something that i have had to learn and perfect though and I only get better with everything that I do and take on such as this play.  It will be great for when I have to play someone’s dad again, haha.

Katie Beckett and Kamahi Djordon King can be seen in Which Way Home , by Katie Beckett.
Dates: 24 Jul – 4 Aug, 2018
Venue: Seymour Centre

Review: My Urrwai (Belvoir St Theatre / Performing Lines)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jan 19 – Feb 4, 2018
Playwright: Ghenoa Gela
Director: Rachael Maza
Cast: Ghenoa Gela
Image by David Charles Collins

Theatre review
Ghenoa Gela is a Torres Strait Islander born in Rockhampton. Efforts to keep culture in her veins have always been deliberate and laborious; it is a constant battle for Indigenous Australians to resist colonisation and to retain their own identities. In My Urrwai, Gela shows us what it is like to be a woman of native heritage living in modern Australia, bringing particular focus to the unjust burden that black people have to bear, whilst existing on their own rightful lands, that white people had forcefully usurped.

Part of the tale involves a significant first visit to Gela’s extended family in the Torres Strait Islands, where she finds herself in moments of alienation, as well as extraordinary connection. My Urrwai is, among many things, a deep meditation about the need to belong, and with it, we examine the hugely important themes of displacement and repudiation as experienced by our First Nations peoples for 230 years and counting.

Formative and crucial fragments of Gela’s life are compiled intelligently, for an autobiography that feels impressively comprehensive in its scope. Even though My Urrwai does contain colourful idiosyncrasies, the earnest care with which it discusses issues of race is unmistakable, as it is probably inevitable that this one-woman show would be called upon to represent entire communities. The need for more productions featuring Torres Strait Islander voices, simply cannot be overstated.

As performer, Gela is an outstanding talent, combining years of training in stage disciplines, with an enviable presence, to produce the consummate storyteller. Her remarkably exacting and agile physicality, plus an uncanny ability to speak with great resonance, sonorous and philosophical, are the key ingredients in this wonderfully moving piece of theatre. Proving himself to be equally accomplished, is lighting designer Niklas Pajanti, whose work accurately prompts a wide range of emotional responses, from transcendent beauty to chilling terror. Director Rachael Maza’s sensitive manipulations of space, ensures that each scene is received crystal clear, whether in their inception, intent or purpose.

Unlike most plays we see on the Australian stage, My Urrwai is conscientious about acknowledging the multicultural aspect of our audiences. It understands that we do not all come from the same place, even if we do wish to identify as one. It is welcoming of all peoples, but it certainly does not subordinate those whose culture is on display. The ease with which it addresses Torres Strait Islander viewers, and its ability to establish a theatrical language that rejects white experience as the centre of all our orbits, is admirable. The process of decolonisation in how we do and think about art in Australia is a massively difficult one, but Ghenoa Gela and My Urrwai are jubilant rays of hope, undeniable in their brilliance.

www.performinglines.org.au | www.ilbijerri.com.au | www.belvoir.com.au