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Written by Anna Locke   
Friday, 15 February 2008 11:56
JandamarraLeft - Simon Clarke, Jimi Bani, Tony Briggs, Kelton Pell. Cover - Geoff Kelso, Jimi Bani. Photos - Gary Marsh


Jandamarra written by Steve Hawke showed great promise. A dramatic story, a fantastic cast and the chance to do something exciting in the use of venue and language. Unfortunately, although I was moved at the end, overall the play did not live up to my expectations.

A joint production between Black Swan Theatre Company and Bunuba Films, Jandamarra tells of the legendary man who led the most successful indigenous resistance against white settlement in the Kimberly in the late 1890’s. Jandamarra was known as the black Ned Kelly, who held up the progress of pastoral movement for over three years.

Directed by Tom Gutteridge, there were moments of brilliance where I could imagine how the play may have been. I was impressed with the music and the live sound effects, produced by the actors at the side of the stage. The audience was treated to a soundscape of the Kimberley – birds, wind, rain and cattle; you got the impression of a hot wild and expansive land.

The set designed by Zoe Atkinson was impressive in its width and height. Scaffolding covered in rough papier-mâché slid sideways to construct the Kimberly gorges. The more dramatic scenes took place on high platforms, creating an effective distinction from the ground scenes.

The set was also used as the backdrop to the animation designed by Kaylene Marr and Clancie Shorter. This consisted of hand drawn moving images representing sacred figures (most notably Yilimbirri Unggud - the creator snake living at Yilimbirri). Whilst I thought it was a good idea, it did not tie in with the realism the ensemble was otherwise trying to impart.

The problem with big events like Jandamarra is the need for a non-traditional performance space. The Perth Convention Centre pavilion is a cavernous space, and even the enormous set seems small, ensuring the actors appeared even smaller and insignificant.

The stadium style seating, creaking and clacking as people moved, with incredibly uncomfortable plastic chairs, detracted from the enjoyment of the piece. As did the fact that the rake of the seating ensured that short people (like myself) struggled to see over the heads of people in front.

It was fascinating to hear the Bunuba language on stage as it is unlike any I have heard before. The translations were projected onto the set, and there lay the problem – the surtitles did not match up with spoken words, and it appeared that the actors were pausing between lines to ensure people read the captions. This created scenes that were stilted and sluggish.

Whilst I thought the cast as an ensemble believed in what they were doing, they lacked the emotion and energy to carry the play to what should have been a dramatic climax. I had hoped for an emotionally charged performance, but found it too slow and calm.

I was drawn to the character of Jandamarra – ably played by Jimi Bani. For much of the play he portrayed his conflicted character with emotion and passion, however, he lost energy towards the end. Perhaps some editing and tightening of the script would help – at over three hours, it was too long.

Ningali Lawford-Wolf, playing Jandamarra's mother Jini, did a remarkable job moving the story along with Margaret Mills as Mary Bligh.  Unfortunately, the large space acted against them and sitting towards the back, I often could not hear, nor understand their speeches.

This should have been an epic piece of theatre that would be talked about for years to come. Jandamarra’s extraordinary position – poised between the white and black worlds, is an excellent story to be dramatised. Whilst I think it is a worthwhile piece, Jandamarra was not compelling, and needs work to become the exceptional play I’m sure it can be.

Black Swan Theatre Company in association with Bunuba Films and Perth International Arts Festival present

Venue: Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre Pavilion 6 | 21 Mounts Bay Road, Perth
Dates: 9 Feb – 23 Feb
Prices: $40 – $45
Bookings: | Festival info 6488 5555
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Comments (1)

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i am a student at northam senior high school and we recently went to see the production of Jandamarra. i believed that the story line, the way in which the sound effects were made and the way it was retold was good but over all it was a bad production.
jasmin kennedy , March 03, 2008

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