Left - Marg Dobson & Frances Hutson. Cover - Dorothy Yui, Angela Padula and Anthea Sidiropoulos
The frustrating thing about Night Breakfast, written by Merrilee Moss, is that it’s a fantastic idea for a stage play that is ultimately flawed in many of the key aspects of production.
The play is based on real interviews with women aged between 55-85 in the Darebin area, after the floods of 2003. Interwoven with these stories is the tale of Ana, the daughter of one of the women, caught in the 2004 tsunami in Vietnam. Like I said, a great idea. The notion of isolation and the fight for survival bringing people together, particularly through womens’ storytelling, is a powerful basis for a performance piece.
Unfortunately Night Breakfast misses the mark. It does celebrate the human spirit, but the opportunity to truly move the audience through the power of these stories is missed.
The plot is wonderfully simple: six older Australian women from different ethnic backgrounds (Italian, Greek, Turkish, Chinese, English and Australian) and a young Irish backpacker are stranded overnight in Darebin in a flood. As they clamber to safety on various rooftops, they share their stories to bolster and entertain one another. They soon find themselves all in the one spot and lifelong friendships are formed. Ana’s story, on the other hand, played out separately, mostly within the confines of the stadium seating.
There are some lovely lines dotted through Night Breakfast: “You never retire from being a mother”; “I hate how young people say ‘whatever!’”… “I’m 57, Mum.” But considering the extremes of the backgrounds of the characters and the fact that most of them have more than half a lifetime of experiences to share, they are curiously few and far between. What is meant to be endearing cultural-based humour becomes a series of flat clichés that fails to truly engage the audience. This is compounded by the fact that with the strong accents and the general lack of voice projection displayed by the cast, chunks of dialogue, and therefore meaning, are missed.
Most disturbing is the mishandling of the so-called ‘Indigenous’ character, the Irish backpacker Nicky, Helen Delaney, who introduces herself to Ela, Ayten Ulusoy, as an Australian Aborigine. Nicky soon confesses that she’s actually Irish and only been in Australia a few months, but that she wishes she was an Aborigine; “I’m just a wannabee Aborigine.” There is talk of glue sniffing, drunkenness, and missions, and not a lot of anything at all that makes you wonder why Nicky would want to be an Aborigine, apart from the fact that she has an Indigenous Aunt by marriage. The La Mama Theatre describes the play thus: Seven older Australian women – Indigenous, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Chinese and English – stranded in a flood overnight. There is no Indigenous character, and although the dialogue referring to a very generalized Indigenous plight is obviously intended as sympathetic, it adds little to the story and therefore comes across as empty politics. I strongly doubt that many people in the Indigenous community would see it as either sympathetic, accurate, or empowering.
In general there is too much static story telling, where the space is underutilized. The story of Ana, told through her friend Kelly, Samantha Bond, is the exception and well told in terms of performance and the use of space. Bond is very believable, and brings a much needed grounding influence to the whole play. The projected image on the back wall and Kelly’s slow climb up the stadium seating to escape the rising waters of the tsunami work to great effect. There are also solid performances by Helen Delaney playing Nicky and Anthea Sidiropoulos as Aphrodite.
The lighting design works well, although it was unfortunate that there was a significant technical hitch on opening night. The set design is interesting but cumbersome, with some odd props that have little to do with moving the story along. There are also moments where five of the actresses are huddled in a very small space and the overlapping dialogue peppered with frightened screaming and exclaiming gets completely lost.
There is so much scope in Night Breakfast for a deeper, more engaging experience. Some of the anecdotes about food, for example, could be sacrificed for more meaningful stories about the women themselves. There are a few moments about lost children, the hardships of factory life and immigration, that really ignite your interest, but they are sidelined by too much dialogue about food and clichéd cultural differences that ultimately don’t come off as well they should. I would dearly love to see this play again after a re-draft and more rehearsal time. It has tremendous promise.
La Mama presents
by Merrilee Moss
Venue: Carlton Courthouse | 349 Drummond Street, Carlton
Dates: Feb 25 – March 14, 2009
Times: Wed & Sun @ 6.30pm, Thurs – Sat @ 8pm
Bookings: 9347 6142