A few weeks ago I was at the Sydney Theatre Company’s play, ‘Wonnangatta‘ expecting to see an Aboriginal play because the excellent Wayne Blair was half of the cast. Silly me!
Now I’ve been to the re-opening of the Belvoir Theatre for a play written by Kodie Bedford, who claims strong Gija family associations (maybe Paddy’s mob???) and the cast features the Thitharr Warra woman (from Cape York) Chenoa Deemal and Bjorn Stewart from the deepest Western Sydney. And, once again I was fooled!
For Bedford has written ‘Cursed!” as an inter-racial play in which Indigeneity isn’t at all prioritised. It just happens that Dawn, the central character (played sensationally by Sacha Horler) has carelessly had partners who were black, white and Chinese, having children by all three. So it’s the relations between these siblings, their mother and their grandmother which matter here, not the colour of their skins.
Oh, and Deemal’s Bernadette has an Aboriginal fiance, Izzy “ but that’s almost immaterial to the play too.
But it’s Bernadette who kicks the play off strongly with a monologue directed at her therapist, explaining her mother’s frequent institutionalisation, her Nan’s replacement with strongly Catholic values, and her appreciation of the directness of her Geraldton townsfolk who didn’t mess around with political correctness as they do in Sydney “ where she’s at uni – and simply called her a Black cunt!
And then we meet the blowsy Dawn, obsessively vacuuming everything including her comatose mother, quite capable of using that vacuum as a weapon, just as she’s capable of using words as crudely and brutally to shock, delight herself and to hurt others. For that’s the first reaction of everyone in this family as they gather for Nan’s departure “ Bernadette, Chinese Marie (Shirong Wu), now, oddly a WA farmer’s wife and mother of twins, and Sebastian (Alex Stylianou), the escapee to Europe, escaping both his sexuality and his failure as an operatic tenor.
Timeless rituals are played out, memories are twisted, and Nan “ played by the imperishable Valerie Bader “ briefly revives and calmly reveals that she’s quite happy to go Gentle into that good night while everyone else clearly wants to rage, rage against the dying of the light (thank you Dylan Thomas). Izzy, the accountant, is pretty shocked by all this eccentricity, especially when Dawn starts kissing him.
But it’s only when they all get around to good ol’ Catholic confessions that the tears start to flow “ encouraged by Marie’s surprising supply of pot and Auntie Mildred (Bader returned with her own bottle of whisky and revelations about generations of family suicides) “ that resolution seems possible. Mind you, Bernadette has a go at what Mum calls doing a Virginia Woolf and they’re forced to conclude that Madness holds us together.
So – a miserable night in the theatre despite much more masked socialisation than my STC experience just 4 weeks ago?
Not a bit of it, it’s often hysterical! Slightly too episodic in the second half, I suspect. But if anyone’s handing out acting gongs this wacky year, Sacha Horler’s almost over-the-edge Dawn is an extraordinary piece of most lamentable comedy, as the Bard once put it. He also said, If this be madness, yet there is method in it. I think Kodie Bedford may have had that in mind.