Photo – Gabi Briggs
Noongar stories on Noongar land. Performer Ian Michael comes back home with stories he and Seanna van Helten have adapted for She Said Theatre’s important solo work directed by Penny Harpham, HART. The script comes from the testimonies from four Noongar men, including Michael himself, about the Stolen Generations.
The work begins with an audio montage of clips from various recognizable public figures (Kevin Rudd and Lang Hancock to name just two) offering their considered (and frequently dubious) opinions on the subject; these clips range from vile, to cringe-worthy, to provocative, to inspiring, demonstrating the range of opinion that exists within Australian society on the matter of the Stolen Generations. We hear the history of fluctuating perspectives, and are reminded that there is still so far to go on creating a climate of understanding and tolerance in this country.
And during that prologue, Michael stands silently with his back turned to the audience, waiting for the right moment to turn to us and begin his part of the story. He opens by telling us exactly what we are going to hear, and what we might feel or experience in the process. He is welcoming and frank, and lets us know that although we might be confused by the overlapping of voices in his narrative, we should not be troubled. We should listen for the things that stand out to us. He’s not only asking for open minds, but open hearts.
The men whose stories he tells are from different generations. We hear the testimonies of Sam Dinah and Paul Parfitt, which were originally told to the Stolen Generations’ Testimonies Foundation, and interviews with Hart (whose name has been changed to protect his identity) and Ian Michael, which were conducted by the show’s authors. Michael highlights the commonalities amongst each man’s experience: the loss, the displacement, the trauma that continues to reverberate through the decades. The stories are poignant and heartbreaking, and Michael elicits our empathy with humour, authenticity and sincerity.
Michael is an incredibly genial presence, with a sparkle in his eye that reveals his love for the work and the stories he’s telling. He gives us subtle physical cues that let us know which man’s voice he’s interpreting, and the transitions between points of view are fluid, working in conjunction with the sound design by Raya Slavin and lighting design by Katie Sfetkidis. Along with the AV elements provided by Michael Carmody, everything comes together to underpin these incredibly valuable and important stories.
This is a work that is truly special for WA, and it is essential viewing for everyone residing in this state; through it, we connect ourselves with this land and its first peoples. But even beyond WA, the stories we hear have a universality that is current and immediately applicable for all displaced people and communities, in Australia and across the globe. I feel honoured to be part of the community that She Said Theatre and Ian Michael are creating through this work, and I’m honoured and humbled to hear these previously silenced voices.
Blue Room Theatre and She Said Theatre present
concept Ian Michael | text Ian Michael and Seanna van Helten
Director Penny Harpham
Venue: The Blue Room Theatre, Perth Cultural Centre, Northbridge WA
Dates: 24 May – 11 June 2016
Tickets: $18 - $28
Bookings: www.blueroom.org.au | 08 9227 7005