Magpie Blues | Ursula Yovich
Left - Ursula Yovich. Photo - Kurt Sneddon
Pint sized performer Ursula Yovich commandeered the Becks Music Box stage in the Perth debut of her cabaret Magpie Blues. Her rich, full voice accompanied by four piece band belted out the hits, and the audience responded in kind with calls for more, whistles and a standing ovation. Magpie Blues is an autobiographical and heartfelt journey about searching for meaning and identity.
Born and raised in the Northern Territory with an Aboriginal mother and Serbian father, as Yovich describes it, life was hard. Her mother left when she was young, and as the oldest girl in the family it was left to her to cook and clean. Yovich entertained the audience with stories of trying (and failing) to set up a cleaning roster for her three siblings, and creating a competition to see who could fold the most washing.
She speaks Burarra (her mother’s language) and Serbian, and was once placed in an ESL class at school because she spoke English with an accent. She says it made her feel dislocated, and this lack of a single cultural identity is a key theme of the show. It was the stories that drew the audience into Ursula’s world and made my heart break, and it was the songs that gave it extra depth and emotion.
Yovich is a powerhouse when it comes to her singing, but equally able to play roles and adopt accents (both of which she does in Magpie Blues to great effect). If one Perth International Arts Festival show wasn’t enough, Yovich is currently in two – Waltzing the Wilarra is showing at the Subiaco Arts Centre until 6 March.
Yovich performed recognisable favourites melded seamlessly with new pieces (by Peter Casey and Jonathan Pease), including parts in Italian, Burarra and Serbian. Fields of Gold was a reflection on her parent’s early marriage, whilst the hilarious medley of 80’s hits she flew through with aplomb recognised the many hours she spent singing into a broom handle locked in her room.
The four piece band consisted of Beau Golden (keyboards), Hamish Stuart (drums), James Haselwood (bass), and Jonathan Pease on guitar. They were relaxed, impressive and a perfect accessory to Yovich’s larger than life voice.
The audience was mesmerised throughout the performance and I’m sure there were a few tears as the night progressed. There were from me, particularly as Yovich discussed losing family too soon, singing the hauntingly passionate song Who Wants to Live Forever (Queen).
The highlight of the night was her rendition of Somewhere Over The Rainbow, with verses sung in Burarra, Serbian and English. With an encore of People Can Make the World a Better Place we left on a high, filled with love and respect for this woman.
This is a show that deserves to tour internationally (it’s already been to most of the big cities in Australia), and Yovich deserves all the praise that is heaped on her. A remarkable woman, a remarkable story and a remarkable voice.
2011 Perth International Arts Festival
Written/Developed by Ursula Yovich, Stewart O'Connell and Francesca Smith
Directed by Wesley Enoch
Venue: Beck's Music Box
Date: Mon 14 Feb 2011
Tickets: Standard $40.50, Friends $37