‘HART’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by May 25, 2016

‘HART’ is a ‘She Said Theatre’ production suitable for young adults and older. This beautiful and richly written piece was co-written by WAAPA graduate, Ian Michael and researcher Seanna van Helten, who achieved a Masters in Writing.

After an extremely successful season at the Melbourne Fringe 2015, where it won ‘Best Emerging Indigenous Artist’, under Anna Kennedy’s management it also won 2 tour awards. The show conquered the Wellington Fringe (NZ) and Adelaide Fringe 2016, winning Best Emerging Artist.

‘HART’ now returns to Noongar country at The Blue Room Studio Theatre, 53 James Street in Northbridge. The 50-minute performances run nightly at 8.30 until Saturday 11th June. There is one Saturday matinee at 4.00 pm.

 

On the floor of the completely matt black set is a two-metre diameter, ring of white flour. Within this circle is a black chair. Seated on the ground nearby is a young Noongar man, dressed in a grey T-shirt and grey shorts. Set and costume design by Chloe Greaves and stage managed by Tonie-Rayne Steele.

        The lights are dim (lighting designers: Shannah McDonald, Katie Sfetkidis), a young man stands, smiles and introduces himself as Ian Michael; he turns to face the rear wall of the stage, where dozens of photos of aboriginals from the past, many most disturbing, are shown in a five minute sequence. One wonders how, less than a hundred years ago, man could treat a fellow man in such a way. These carefully edited visions by Michael Carmody, matched the clever composition of sound designer and composer, Raya Slavin – whose CV experience reads like a Who’s Who of Australian music. The images changed with the beat of the music. As the photos moved back in time, Raya’s haunting music seemed to be played backwards (?), as in the Beatles ‘Day in the Life’ giving an extra depth.

     There then followed a sound sequence of snippets from radio and TV. The clips included the ‘Sorry speech’ intermingled with some jaw-dropping, politically incorrect comments from the past 50 years, spoken by well-known, admired politicians, celebrities and self-opinionated radio presenters.

     Michael explained that he was about to tell us stories of the stolen generation and abuse from the 1930s to the 1980s. He blended the testimonials and experiences of 60 Aboriginals with those of his own family.

 

With the horrendous news stories of thousands dying in Syria, massive death figures from famines in Africa, the numerous boat tragedies, the average person can be hardened to the huge, detached figures. Likewise, for many people the sad reaction to the Stolen Generation stories is ‘Oh not again’ or ‘heard it before’. However, like the previous topics, if you haven’t met anyone who has actually been in this situation, experienced and suffered, one can easily brush aside the feelings.

Very wisely, Ian Michael did not lecture the audience with impersonal figures, but he told us intimate tales in such a way that you, the audience, actually felt as though you were part of the family concerned – and then Michael delivered the catastrophic punchline.

The stories were filled with love, teetotal relatives who really cared, close family bonding, but because of their colour and mad politicians, our Aboriginals were considered incompetent parents.

Our half cast story teller then explained how as a child he played perfectly happily with Wadjela kids, not noticing the skin difference until he was told by ‘wise authorities’ – and then followed a confused, heart-breaking period of not being accepted by either the white men or the Aboriginals.

Under the direction of Penny Harpham, the stories were communicated with warmth, perfect enunciation and pace, as Michael drew you into his turbulent past. He managed to link the events to everyday happenings to those in a typical, modern day family; the result was that the audience left the theatre, emotionally aware and feeling as though their own family had been raped, violated or disrupted. Very clever writing, impeccably related. The personalising of the testimonials really hit home to the audience.

Delivered free of over-sentimentality and devoid of self-pity, the facts of hard hitting stories of bravery and resilience, spoke volumes for themselves.

A wonderful, personal revelation. A top class show, most worthy of its International awards.