The set was apparently simple yet deceptively clever – much like the rest of the performance. Its plain white freestanding backdrop was able to double as a projection screen; it had revolving panels that operated as doors and windows; and the panels could also hold multiple items such as mirrors, martinis and more. Its message was simple – one thing can be many things, all at the same time. This message was carried throughout the performance, and evidently displayed the diversity not only of Polytoxic’s creative team, but also of the culture in general.
This theme was further explored with the exhibition of the fa’afafine – the transgender identity given to boys who are raised doing women’s work, and thus are raised as girls. While depicted in a humourous light, with Fa’anana gossiping and getting dressed with the two female performers in the ‘dressing room’, Polytoxic also chose to use some Brechtian techniques, such as projecting the definition of fa’afafine onto the white backdrop, to give a more serious and lasting impression of the issue. Polytoxic asserts that not only are the fa-afafine tolerated in this predominantly patriarchal society, but that they are normal practice. This simple exposé of the clashing cultural ideals between the supposedly civilized Western society (with a large degree of homophobia and gay rights issues) and the savage Samoan society (with their acceptance of transgender individuals) was a repeated element of the performance, and merely highlighted the need to question our own ideals in response to the issues posed.
Other issues such as the fa’afafine are raised throughout the performance, such as the introduction of non-native wildlife to the environment; the opposing views on courting rituals; and the general superficial stereotype given to Samaon, and indeed Islander, culture. All the issues are raised in the same way – the audience is kept entertained and happy, watching likeable performers sing, dance and joke their way around the issues, while subtle hints about the true nature of the issue are being dropped.
Like the performance itself, the three performers are both strong and delightful. Lisa Fa’alafi’s dancing is captivating, and one cannot help but look only at her throughout the dance routines. Efeso Fa’anana’s comic timing is both relaxed and punchy, and Leah Shelton’s physical prowess is evident as she supernaturally glides across the stage in her huge black gown.
In general terms the mood of the performance was light and frivolous, a celebration of the unique Samoan culture. But beneath the merriment, certain questions were being asked. Statements were being made. While the performance was cheerful on the surface, it was simultaneously curious, accusatory and defensive. Let us hope that we learn not to judge all cultures so superficially.
Polytoxic in association with Brisbane Powerhouse presents
Venue: Visy Theatre
Dates/Time: Tue 6 Nov – Sat 20 Nov, Tue-Wed 8pm, Thu-Sat 1pm + 8pm
Tickets: $22/$18, Preview $16, Schools $14
Bookings: 3358 8600 or brisbanepowerhouse.org
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