NamatjiraPhotos – Brett Boardman

A man and his portrait sit, being painted by the careful hand-eye of artist Robert Hannaford. This is a bold and precise image befitting of the legendary Albert Namatjira, awaiting life, hunched and reflective, still, solitary. A sunrise lifts the darkness, and the sound of etching chalk across the back walls, filling the black with a white, dusty landscape, indicative of the Australia bush.

Namatjira unfurls the life of watercolour artist, Albert Namatjira. Born as Elea, and renamed Albert by a Lutheran missionary, he was the first Aboriginal to be given Australian citizenship, highly regarded for his exquisite talent as an artist. In 1953 he was awarded the Queen’s Coronation medal. The father of ten children, Namatjira’s talent catapulted him into wealth and great notoriety. This eventually led to a war within himself, between the love of painting and a duty to provide for his people.

As multi talented performer, Trevor Jamieson ‘playing, no, channeling Namatjira’ states ‘Indigenous theatre; such rich cultural idioms’, Namatjira reveals a not-so-culturally rich underbelly of Australian society – one that is exploitative, prejudiced, selfish and brutal. The narrative backdrop of a domineering ‘white fulla’ world, shaping and scratching its lines into Namatjira’s face, under the guise of religion and protocol.

The illuminating comic prowess of Derik Lynch not only enhances the melancholic richness of Namatijira’s life but also punctuates the performance with a sparkle befitting of Queen Elizabeth’s tiara.

The performance is tightly held in place from the outskirts, by the silent, still voices of the direct descendants of Albert Namatjira; Hilary Wirri, Lenie Namatjira, Kevin Namatjira, Elton Wirri, artists in their own right. At one point, a piece of chalk was dropped, and the drawing stopped, while on the main stage, an Aboriginal man stumbled drunkenly around. Sometimes the best theatrical moments are by mistake.

Outstanding direction by Scott Rankin, creating a uniquely gentle and strong narrative, storytelling punctuated with reportage style commentary. Jamieson flipped in and out of character, effortlessly, scenes travelling from place to place with naturalism, direct address, slapstick, buffoonery, and the occasional song and dance number, complete with a twist of Drag. A series of well-placed images that formed a seamless living canvas of the life of Albert Namitjira.

At one point, the narrative seemed to veer off into heavy, laboured dialogue. It seemed to contrast the fluent, light garment of storytelling with combined imagery that Rankin had landmarked through the play, creating a lull in the tempo and structure. This did not serve to create further layers, but rather a tiny pinprick hole in the seamless skin of the performance.

Genevieve Lacey’s musical direction and composition expertly captured the deep resonating tones and predatory nature of the Aussie bush, augmenting the shifting landscape created by Genevieve Dugard’s simplistically beautiful wooden rock face setting. Nigel Levings lighting design and Tess Schofield’s costuming, all worked together perfectly to articulate the visual narrative, in simple yet bold style.

We etch our own lives from a blank canvas. Family and the traditions that hold families together help create the picture we paint. I am very sure that the well-earned standing ovation will be etched in the memories of the performers for many years to come and be remembered by its audience as an example of a great and valuable contribution to Australian theatre.

Malthouse Theatre presents BIG hART's

Venue: Merlyn Theatre, The  Malthouse, 113 Sturt St Southbank Vic 3006
Dates: 10 – 28 August, 2011
Times: Wednesday – Saturday @ 7:30pm. [email protected] 6:30pm. Sunday 21 & Sunday 28 @ 5pm
Matinees: Thursday 18 @ 1pm, Saturday 27 @ 2:00pm
Tickets: $26 - $58 (Including Booking Fee)
Bookings: |  03 9685 5111

Also Playing: Drum Theatre @ Dandenong Town Hall, Dandenong: 1 – 3 September
Geelong Performing Arts Centre, Geelong: 8 – 10 September

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