Tag Archives: Indigenous

207: Head Full of Love

2 Apr

Alana Valentine’s Head Full of Love is a charming bit of storytelling – filled with humour and sensitivity as it tackles the serious issues of renal failure in indigenous Australians and mental problems in … well, all of us.

Head Full of Love

Colette Mann and Roxanne MacDonald in QTC’s production

The play features two characters: one Aboriginal and one Caucasian. They are both older women and it’s delightful to read a play intended for mature actors. Nessa is an older white woman who is running away from something. She’s landed up in Alice Springs with almost no money and an invisible person sitting on her shoulder.

Tilly is an Aboriginal woman from the Pitjantjatjara. She is busily crocheting beanies for the Alice Springs annual beanie festival and is finding it difficult to finish her entry for the competition because of her ongoing dialysis treatment. Renal failure is a real problem for Indigenous Australians – they are more than nine times more likely to be affected by End Stage Renal Disease than non-Indigenous Australians. For Tilly, it means that she has to spend four hours on dialysis three times a week.

Nessa strikes up a conversation with Tilly when she asks Tilly to show her how to crochet. Soon Tilly has persuaded Nessa to give her a ride to the clinic for her dialysis and the two overcome their initial awkwardness with each other and gradually become friends.

While Tilly’s dialogue comes across as very broken on the page, Valentine is explicit in her writer’s notes that this is because she is speaking in a second or third language and that her words should be performed with “variation, nuance and dynamism” – rather than stumbled through.

Head Full of Love has plenty of pathos, but one scene I particularly enjoyed reading was the scene where Nessa describes getting lost in the bush. It’s a soliloquy delivered to the audience and is particularly effective.

NESSA                  And if your skin is crawling because the poverty is so epidemic and the hardship is so obvious and there is so much filth and filth and dirt … then just accept it.

Or get in your car and drive away not because you can’t handle it, no, just because, because you still have that choice.

Published by Playlab 2014
Characters – 2 F

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128: The 7 Stages of Grieving

27 Jul

I first saw The 7 Stages of Grieving when it was presented at Metro Arts in 1995. It was an incredible production performed by Deborah Mailman, directed by Wesley Enoch and co-written by the two of them. I still remember moments of the production, can still hear Deb saying “Reckon it’s a silly nation” and can still feel the rawness I felt by the end. As if my chest had been scraped on the inside and my throat was choked with tears.

The play script is sparse as much of the production took place in action, projection and singing, but it still packs a punch. The book also contains interesting essays, histories, translations and timelines.

The 7 Stages of Grieving is a play about Indigenous identity in Australia, about this country’s history, and about grieving and reconciliation. It’s a one-woman show where the woman is not a particular character but a story-teller and every Indigenous woman. She shares the griefs and joys, tells the story of Daniel Yocke (or Yock as it is more often spelled), an Aboriginal young man who died sometime between being arrested by police and arriving at the Brisbane City Watchhouse in 1993.

This is rousing, moving, heart-breaking theatre. The script is broken into short sections, each with its own title. Some are funny, some are wordless and some are tragic. I loved Invasion Poem, which is rich with images. Instead of thinking of the narrator of this one as one particular woman, think of her as Aboriginal culture, or perhaps land. That makes lines like the following easier to understand:

Without warning
They broke from our soft
Whispered conversation.
One took a handful of my hair and led my head to their knee.
Another washed his face in my blood.
Together they ploughed my feet. My feet.

My children, stolen away to a safe place,
Were wrenched from familiar arms and
Forced to feed upon another tongue.

For me, one of the most beautiful stories is of Aunty Grace who comes to the narrator’s grandmother’s funeral. Everyone thinks she’s stuck up. She’s been gone for years after marrying an Englishman after WWII.

For some reason she didn’t stay, which in my family is strange. […] Nana used to say, “Just when all our men were coming home and we had our share to bury too, she upped and left us. The Black Princess sipping tea with the Queen. Now I’m a Christian woman and I forgive her but … No more. No more talkin of her.”

The narrator tells how she drove Aunty Grace out to the cemetery on the way to the airport, how no one else from the family came to see her off, how Aunty Grace sat at the graveside for a long time and then took her suitcase, threw out the contents and filled it with red earth from the grave. Crying, at last, crying.

The 7 Stages of Grieving is a beautiful play on stage and on the page. It’s a generous gift that allows non-Indigenous audiences to feel something of what our Indigenous neighbours, friends and co-workers experience constantly.

Publisher: Playlab Press

Cast: 1F

122: Stolen

21 Jul

Jane Harrison’s Stolen brought tears to my eyes on the bus this morning. First commissioned in 1992, this is a play about the Stolen Generation, told through the voices of five Aboriginal children.

Stolen

By using five characters, Harrison is able to reflect on the differences and similarities in experience. There’s the little girl who is repeatedly abused by the couples who take her out of the children’s home for a weekend ‘visit’ (how could this ever have been considered a good idea? Letting people come and pick a kid to take home for a weekend? Were authorities wilfully blind or just plain stupid?), there’s the boy who’s told his mum is dead while she writes to him every week, longing to hear from him, there’s the girl who’s taken from her mum and then has her kids taken from her, there’s a boy who manages to hold onto some of the stories and there’s a girl who’s adopted out and brought up white.

In her playwright’s note, Harrison says: “Numerous people – Koori and non-Koori – contributed their time, skills and a good chunk of their souls to make it happen. In the end Stolen took six years, four workshops and many tears to get to the stage.” Once on the stage, I am sure it has inspired many more tears as people hear and feel these stories for themselves.

The play is a series of vignettes, with all the cast playing multiple characters as they enact different parts of the children’s lives. For instance, in Ruby’s descent into madness:

AUTHORITY FIGURE: Clean for me, Ruby.
AUTHORITY FIGURE: Wash for me, Ruby.
AUTHORITY FIGURE: Cook for me, Ruby.
RUBY: Don’t need no family of me own.
AUTHORITY FIGURE: Scrub for me, Ruby.
AUTHORITY FIGURE: Nurse for me, Ruby.
AUTHORITY FIGURE: Mop for me, Ruby.
RUBY: Got enough to do.

As the scene progresses, the voices get nastier, turning into the sleaze, the arsehole and the lady as they force Ruby to her knees and abuse her.

Stolen is an important play. Some people won’t want to see it because they’ll recognise that it will be harrowing, but there is also humour and resilience. The issue of the Stolen Generations isn’t going to blow away with the sand, much as some people would like it to. It is part of our history and we need to shed tears over it before there is any hope of moving on.

SANDY: The land where my people come from is covered in red sand and in the old days, the women to try to stop the white men from raping them, would shove sand inside themselves. Anything to stop the men from raping them, anything. And that’s what my mother did, but it didn’t stop them and so I came along. My mother, she loved me, but she called me Sandy anyway. She sure had a sense of humour that one.

Stolen will be shown in Brisbane at QPAC this November.

Publisher: Currency Press

Cast: 3F, 2M