Mother May We

1 Oct

This captivating one-woman show raises a bunch of fascinating questions.

Andy Warhol said “In the future, everyone will have a 65 minute show at Griffin in which to share their trauma.” Of course, the comment is apocryphal, but it came to mind when writer performer Mel Ree suggested that Australians (or was it white people?) don’t like to hear stories of trauma. Admittedly, it is odd that we generally don’t enjoy paying to hear stories of actual suffering. (Though it is utterly, undeniably, incontrovertibly true, as Ree asserts, that the reluctance to hear such stories is part of the reason we’ve failed to achieve justice for our indigenous people.)

A show like this feels a little like a sermon. I don’t mean it’s preachy –  not at all. (Though it’s always fun to be told that I probably hold certain beliefs because of my ethnicity. Or at least as fun as the average sermon.) What I mean is that the experience somehow evokes that of going to church. I’m saying nothing new to suggest, that in our secular society, our theatres have become our cathedrals, our street performers our wayside chapels, and the kindness of strangers the visitations of angels. Ree appears to be bearing witness: this is what was done to me, this is what I have done, and this is what I have been given – each met with approving murmurs from the congregation.

In language that bubbles and bounces from the phraseology of critical theory, psychology and narratology to splendid lyric poetry, Ree shares her story. It’s about not being sufficiently loved, and the multiple disturbing ways this is manifest. 

Ree is of Papua New Guinean heritage. Her ancestors were witches. Some of her immediate family were …. troubled. Such are the gifts of diaspora and displacement. Here the deliberate obliqueness, the silences, are poignant. The rest is conscious mischievous exuberance, empowering play; we hear more about a late night booty call than about any violence.

I assume this performance is non-fiction (though obviously creative nonfiction; Ree tells us that we all build a narrative of our lives.) It’s fascinating seeing something like this in a theatre. What has become of character? Yeats suggested the performance of character is crucial to the ethical sense, because in performing someone else we establish that it’s possible to be different to who we currently are.

When our theatres no longer present characters, but rather bear witness, something else is happening…… something sadder, something smaller……. as necessary, as beautiful, as tears.  

I’ve suggested this is a story about trauma, but the conclusion is joyful. Ree tells of meeting a kind-hearted stranger. I won’t go into the details, partly because that would be a spoiler, but mainly because it’s familiar. We’re reminded of what is known by the wise of every culture: that what is taken from us we grieve, but we celebrate what we let go.

Paul Gilchrist

Mother May We by Mel Ree

SBW Stables Theatre  until Oct 8

Image credit DefinitelyDefne Photography

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