a body is all that remains

12 May

A single performer stands on a bare, dimly lit stage. He speaks to us in a soft, gentle voice. There is a soundscape of lapping water.

This is Lungol Wekina, an indigenous Papua New Guinean storyteller. He shares with us the brutal impact of colonisation on his people and his desire for connection with his ancestors.

Is it possible to be guilty of writing a spoiler in discussing a show such us this? You might think not, but you might be wrong.

Wekina speaks of his people drowning. Or, more precisely, of being made to feel they have always been drowning.

The culprit? “The Project”.

It’s an interesting choice of phrase. It’s colonialism. It’s capitalism. And it suggests deliberate intention.

There’s beautiful poetry in Wekina’s telling – sparse language, but rich, with seemingly simple figurative language that gradually blossoms into glorious fullness.

Initially, the monologue is thick with the abstract language of cultural studies, the terminology of post-colonial theory. This is a tendency that’s become almost conventional in contemporary theatre – but Wekina does something wonderful with it. His sharing is short on specifics, on the concrete – and that’s his point: it’s gone. All gone. Taken from him.

He suggests the colonisers burnt down his people’s library, destroying their cultural heritage. But he acknowledges this is a metaphor, just a metaphor, and one he has built from the language of the oppressor. That is their power.

So he builds another metaphor, this time of the dancer. In her movements, and in her voice, the dancer encapsulates Wekina’s cultural heritage, his connection with his ancestors. He tells us, that after the shocking violence of first contact between indigenous people and the colonisers, the Project became more insidious, slipping gently on stage with the dancer, and slowly replacing her steps, her voice, with its own.

The old world is lost. The dance is lost.

But the motif of the dancer facilitates another perspective. As Yeats observed (sort of) how can you tell the dance from the dancer?   

And by now the stage is no longer dimly lit. There is the performer, and only the performer, in full light. And, as he speaks in his gentle voice, he ever so subtly evokes the movement of the dance.

If I say more, I feel I will be guilty of a spoiler.

I say only this: the finale is poignant and sorrowful. But it’s also hopeful, a vision of connection … with ancestors … and with all humankind.  Because what do we share?

Paul Gilchrist

a body is all that remains

written and performed by Lungol Wekina

as part of the Everything but the Kitchen Sink Festival

Flight Path Theatre until Thurs 12 May ( the festival runs to Fri 13)

https://www.flightpaththeatre.org/whats-on/everything-but-the-kitchen-sink

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: