My colleague was a little dubious about The Junebug Symphony, possibly because the promotional material was vague on all but one detail: this was a show that would appeal to both children and adults.
It is a show that appeals to children and adults -“ but also us kidults (as the buzzword goes). Few words adequately convey the experience by the final curtain, although joy on a stick comes close. A cast of four performers, two supernumeraries and one onstage cameo from a crewperson create a rapid-fire montage of coup de th?re -“ and all without a revolving set or blizzards of fake snow.
The Junebug Symphony is a circus, although part of a new form that has evolved significantly in the last 10 years. There are no animals, the repertoire of acts has become more fluid and often a theme or narrative provides a loose sense of unity.
Putting to one side the obvious physical demands involved in executing the tricks, there remains the challenge of creating a work that flows from one moment to the next, avoiding the stop-start rhythm that modern audiences may find tedious and jerky. Director and multi-talented performer James Thi??has mostly succeeded on all counts. He’s created a Rowlands-esque universe in which paintings move, dinner parties become battlefields and chandeliers swing as trapezes. The action is framed by the protagonist’s troubled night’s sleep, although his return to bed at the show’s end avoids a deadly clich?And it was all a reality, it seems.
A dreamlike experience of another kind was on offer the next night at the Drama Theatre of the Opera House, with the Sydney premiere of Black Chicks Talking. Based on the book and documentary Black Chicks Talking, the play condenses the words and experiences of nine real-life interviewees into five fictional characters who meet with some contrivance in an outback setting.
The results are frustrating. On the plus side, the dialogue is predominantly fun and exciting, with debates about heritage and the perils of identifying as part-Aboriginal swelling the air with danger and courage. Included in the dramatis personae is the character Michelle, a woman with major drug and alcohol problems, who lives on unemployment benefits, relies on the government for housing and has on occasion lost custody of some of her seven children (born to five fathers). The amazing achievement of the writers, the performance by Sher Williams-Hood and no doubt the candour of the original subject, is that Michelle is sympathetic, unapologetic and also an audience favourite. These black chicks are all very different, with Patricia (Kyas Sheriff) even identifying as a muff-diver, such that the play rewrites the book on the representation of indigenous women. Groundbreaking, history in the making, cutting edge: all clich? all utterly applicable to Black Chicks Talking.
Sadly, the production itself is less satisfying. Clunky stagecraft, an ugly fake tree set and an elaborate though overused soundscape fail to create a theatrical environment that supports or enhances the playscript. There is also an awkward scene in which city mouse Elizabeth (Leah Purcell), a woman who spends the entire play bemoaning her complete ignorance of Aboriginal culture, gets lost in the bush and discovers an indigenous connection by somehow bursting into traditional dance. I’m going out on a white limb here, but I found the moment twee in the extreme.
Finally, the National Theatre Of Colombia made their Australian debut at the Theatre Royal, with a show that Brett Sheehy has been quoted in a variety of publications (including this one) as being passionate and like nothing Sydney has ever seen. There is passion and there is nudity, in a production that is convincingly acted and skilfully performed. But Chronicle Of A Death Foretold does not offer anything particularly new in the way of a unique South American theatre tradition. As the major theatrical event of the festival, Chronicle Of A Death Foretold was in the unfortunate position of following The Flood Drummers, a genre-smashing experience that set the bar very high for future programs. Expect a slick night at the theatre, but don’t expect unprecedented passion.
The Junebug Symphony is playing at the State Theatre at 7:30pm until 25 January. Tickets range from $38 to $45 and may be booked at Ticketmaster7 on 1300 136 166. Black Chicks Talking is playing at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House at 8pm until 25 January. Tickets range from $39 to $48 and may be booked through Festival Ticketek on 9266 4826 or from the SOH on 9250 7777. Chronicle Of A Death Foretold is playing at the Theatre Royal until 25 January and tickets range from $45 to $60. Tickets may be booked on Festival Ticketek on 9266 4826.