Waltzing the Wilarra | Yirra Yaakin Theatre CompanyLeft - Ernie Dingo and Jessica Clarke. Cover - Trevor Jamieson and Ursula Yovich. Photos - Jon Green

Written and composed by David Milroy and directed by Wesley Enoch, Waltzing the Wilarra is a highly evocative musical tale of love, jealousy, friendship and family. It delves into the issues surrounding the stolen generation and aboriginal rights, yet manages to not wallow in self pity nor lay blame. This was a true ensemble production and the caliber of all the performers was extremely high.

Waltzing the Wilarra is set in two acts. In post war Perth “The Club”, run by Mr Mack, is one of the few places citizens can get together and forget their troubles. Charlie, Elsa, Jack and Fay are the young men and women in the club and it is their stories we hear about. The second act is set forty years on. As the club faces demolition, the same friends and foes are brought together and old secrets and alliances reemerge.  

Designed by Jacob Nash, the set looked exactly like an old town hall, complete with wooden floor boards and steps leading to the stage. Nash’s design extended into the auditorium and outside, with hundreds of foil stars hanging from the ceiling and tin can lights hanging in the trees outside the theatre. Trent Suidgeest’s lighting design was simple yet effective, alternating easily between realistic and surreal as the play demanded.

Special mention must be made of the spectacular aging of Mr Mack (Kelton Pell), Charlie (Trevor Jamieson), Fay (Alexandra Jones) and Elsa (Ursula Yovich). Both the makeup and characterization, which the performers sustained for the duration of the second act, was faultless and superbly done.

Fay, the spoilt wealthy white woman from Claremont, is the most annoying character I have seen in a while. Jones portrayed her skillfully, managing to depict the arrogance and artlessness of Fay. Irma Woods (Mrs Cray) successfully and convincingly played a character much older than herself, one torn between her blood daughter and the daughter she was “hired” to raise. Trevor Jamieson as Charlie was heartfelt and genuine. 

As the most well known (outside theatre circles) performer, Ernie Dingo has received the lion’s share of publicity. His character Old Toss can be described as the imparter of (sometimes flawed) information. Tainted with bitterness and black humour, his scenes effectively manage to convey the restrictions Aborigines faced in the 1940’s. His characterization reminded me of Captain Jack (Pirates of the Caribbean), and his song “Shin Stew” was a powerhouse of emotion and depth.

Raw emotion is one feature the audience saw in spades in Elsa’s (Yovich) and Jack’s (Tim Solly) story. Having returned from the war a broken man, Jack turns to drink and rage to keep the demons at bay. His Aboriginal wife Elsa, who has no rights as an independent woman, sticks by Jack even when his anger turns towards her. 

Both roles needed strong and capable performers, which Yovich and Solly filled perfectly. Yovich’s voice is angelic yet powerful, and she effortlessly captured the fragility of her situation. Her transformation in the second act was so perfect I had to check multiple times that it was the same actor.

Solly embodied Jacks mental distress convincingly, coming across with bipolar like emotions that changed with a word or a glance. He was genuinely frightening to watch as he ranted and raved, and my heart broke for him as he sung “Criminal Love”;
“Love is a criminal; it’ll steal your heart and then hide it away,
Love is a vandal; it’ll ruin your life and leave you maimed. . . “

Lead by Musical Director Wayne Freer, the live band was outstanding. Comprising of Freer on Double Bass, Ric Eastman (Percussion), Lucky Oceans (Pedal Steel Guitar and Accordion), Bob Patient (Keyboards) and Playwright/Composer David Milroy on Guitar and Banjo, they were a tight ensemble. The songs were poignant, well written and scored, and matched the direction of the production.  Kingsley Reeve’s sound-scape of rattling trains and city noise ably underscored the performance.

Enoch has woven together a cast of musicians, creatives and performers and produced one cohesive whole. This is a story that any one can relate to and appreciate, learn from and enjoy. It is a beautiful, heartfelt production about love and loss, and I believe Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company has a hit on their hands.

Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company
Waltzing the Wilarra
by David Milroy

Directed by Wesley Enoch

Venue: Subiaco Arts Centre
Dates: Feb 3 - March 6, 2011
Tickets: $19.95 - $54.50
Bookings: www.bocsticketing.com.au

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