Tag Archives: SBW Stables Theatre

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

Golden Blood

4 Jul

Plays like this make you want to shout that Australian theatre is finally growing up – and if such partisan, attention-seeking hyperbole belongs anywhere, surely it belongs in the writings of a drama critic.

Said more plainly, Golden Blood by Merlynn Tong, set in Singapore and presenting only Singaporean characters, is glorious Australian theatre.

She is orphaned at fourteen. Her estranged brother, seven years older and a petty criminal, becomes her guardian.

The developing relationship between the siblings is beautiful to watch; bewilderment and uncertainty vie with affection and a need to belong, creating scenes both comic and moving.

Director Tessa Leong elicits terrific performances from a super cast. Merlynn Tong takes innocence and intelligence and makes a lovable dreamer. Charles Wu takes amiability and bravado and makes a charming schemer. (And schemes and dreams might be as immiscible as oil and water – but out of such those roadside rainbows…..)

Tong has chosen her material well; obviously drama does conflict (do the two siblings want the same thing?) and obviously drama does duplicity (has the brother really reformed?) but, at its most humane, drama reminds us that conflict and duplicity exist, not only in relationships, but within individuals. Essentialists everywhere assert there is a real self, but Tong’s characterisation of the gangster brother is an empathy-evoking reminder that cynicism is far easier to criticise than to do. We tell stories to be believed, and one person, at least, is always listening: I say I’m doing this for your good, and I find myself very convincing.  

Such portraits of the human experience engender forgiveness – and we could all do with a little more of that.

Paul Gilchrist

Golden Blood by Merlynn Tong

SBW Stables Theatre until 30 July griffintheatre.com.au

Image by Brett Boardman