The Wik people hold a strong and important place in Queensland’s history. They have become an Australian household name; distorted, glorified, made both legendary, and notorious over time. Whispers of this Wik Woman by Fiona Doyle, is a story about one of these people, and how her journey, and her descendants’ journeys, changed the state we live in.

Kooemba Jdarra presents Whispers of this Wik Woman at Judith Wright Centre, in an honest and moving live performance adaptation of Fiona Doyle’s book. It portrays the story of Fiona Doyle’s grandmother, Awumpun, and her struggle both within white culture and her own. Fiona Doyle plays both herself and Awumpun throughout the performance, creating a performance woven with recollected history from both Awumpun and Fiona’s perspectives.

The story is powerful and emotive. Awumpun moves to Weipa as a young woman, to carry out her destiny as predetermined by her father and grandfather, to join her ‘country’. As the tale progresses, we witness her interaction with the local laws and etiquette, and we watch as her courage grows as she defends her right to live her way. 

It is a strong story, about a proud woman, and it moves at the same steady pace throughout every detail of the story. While it is fairly linear in structure, as the story is told in chronological order, it does have brief asides from the “present”, where Fiona recounts details as herself. It does not wholly follow a traditional play structure, as it has no definitive climax. Certainly, it has moments of more importance, however these moments are pushed through at the same steady pace as the rest of the performance, thus you almost miss the fact that the climax even existed. This steady flow that drives the performance is as resolute as time itself. 

Fiona Doyle stands out as not only a strong performer, but a strong woman – just like her grandmother. Her captivating stage presence draws the audience in to the story. Anthony Newcastle, who plays Fiona’s grandfather, amongst other roles, is more subtle in delivery, yet equally as charming and delightful to watch.

There are some elements of the Kooemba Jdarra performance that seemed unnecessary and clichéd. For example, the two-women ‘chorus’ often repeated the final consonant of the previously spoken line in hissed whispers; obviously attempting a well tried dramatic convention to emphasise the dialogue, but actually resulting in an annoying distraction from the already significant text. Additionally, Roxanne McDonald and Rhonda Purcell’s roles as the busy-body women sometimes appear over-the-top and superficial. Gration also employs the tried technique of never using an off-stage area for costume or role changes. While this also is an often overused convention, in the style of this performance it adds to the raw, open and honest portrayal of the story. It can also be interpreted that the way the ‘off-stage’ performers sit around the ‘on-stage’ performers, is evocative of traditional Indigenous story-telling: sitting around a bonfire and watching the storytellers step in and out of their roles.

As a story, Whispers of this Wik Woman is holistically strong, moving, powerful and of great integrity. Yet as a performance, it does not quite reach that some standard. Perhaps this is due to the standards that the far more dominant mainstream theatre has already set, and thus Contemporary Indigenous theatre is difficult to judge against these values. Hopefully, with the production of more contemporary indigenous theatre performances, a better understanding of both their performance style and culture will arise.

Kooemba Jdarra Indigenous Performing Arts presents
Whispers of this Wik Woman
by Fiona Doyle

Venue: Performance Space | Judith Wright Centre, 420 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley
Dates: Tue 13 Nov 2007 - Sat 24 Nov 2007
Times: Tues – Sat, 7.30pm (Doors open 7pm)
Matinees: Thu 15 & 22 1pm, Sat 17 & 24 @ 1pm (Doors open 12.30pm)
Cost: Full: Web/Phone & Door $30.50/$32.50
Concession: Web/Phone & Door $20/$22
Matinees: Full: Web/Phone & Door $24.50/$26.50
Conc: Web/Phone & Door $20/$22
Enquiries/Box Office: 07 3872 9000 Monday to Friday 12 noon - 4pm

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