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e-dition october 25


refugees adrift

caroline wake: lucky, ipan productions, new theatre


Hoa X, Guy, Simon, Lucky, IPAN Hoa X, Guy, Simon, Lucky, IPAN
photo Robbie Pacheco
OVER THE PAST DECADE, NUMEROUS PERFORMANCES HAVE BEEN MADE BY, WITH AND ABOUT REFUGEES AND ASYLUM SEEKERS (SEE OUR ARCHIVE HIGHLIGHT). A CURRENT ESTIMATE PUTS THE AUSTRALIAN TOTAL AT APPROXIMATELY 40 PRODUCTIONS AND RISING. MOST RECENTLY, I SAW THE INTERNATIONAL PERFORMING ARTS NETWORK’S LUCKY, PART OF THE NEW THEATRE’S THE SPARE ROOM INITIATIVE FOR INDEPENDENT ARTISTS AND COMPANIES.

The character of the title, Lucky, never actually appears: he apparently set sail some time ago and has not been heard from since. Instead, the play, by Dutch author Ferenc Alexander Zavaros, focuses on his two brothers Dannybird (Hoa X) and Abduma (Guy Simon) whom we meet just as they too decide to flee. These opening scenes, ably directed by Sama Ky Balson, alternate between action and commentary, so that one actor says “I have to leave” and the other adds: “I tell my mother.” This device soon disappears, however, as the brothers board the raft with a third man, Mister John (Drew Wilson), who is their guide and people smuggler. Together the three men cross an unnamed sea towards an unnamed country, with little more than a container of water, a radio and some rope. We never find out if they arrive.

 Hoa X, Lucky, IPAN Hoa X, Lucky, IPAN
photo Robbie Pacheco
During this journey, the brothers reminisce about their mother whom they have left behind, and their brother who has left them. In language that sounds like a libretto they wonder where Lucky is, what he is doing and why he hasn’t written. Eventually it becomes clear that the other “birdboy,” as Mister John calls him, has probably perished at sea raising the possibility that one of the brothers may in fact be a ghost. Indeed sometimes their speech is strangely haunting while at other times it is repetitive; occasionally both—“my little brother forgets all that he has forgotten.” The people smuggler speaks in an elliptical, nonsensical English. Initially the device works to suggest the language gap, in a manner similar to a masterful scene in Brian Friel’s 1980 play Translations, but eventually it starts to grate.

 Hoa X, Guy Simon, Lucky, IPAN Hoa X, Guy Simon, Lucky, IPAN
photo Robbie Pacheco
In fact the best parts of the production happen when speech falls away completely and movement (co-directed by Kirk Page) comes to the fore. Two of the performers (Simon and Wilson) do some beautiful rope work, hanging from the ceiling and bouncing off the vertical wooden frames that surround the white raft resembling a ship’s rig (designed by Sama Ky Balson). In one scene, there is a strikingly choreographed struggle and in another the performers seem to be spinning in the sea. Unfortunately this scene is hampered by low ceilings preventing them from attaining any real height or speed. Nor does the music help: while it is ambitious and the melodies pleasant, the vocals are too loud and the lyrics too literal: “I’m following the water/ Internally displaced people/ Generalised violence.” Similarly literal are shadows made by a fourth performer and singer (Conrad Le Bron): the characters see a bird and his hands flap behind the cream-coloured sails that hang upstage. In such moments the performance becomes less than the sum of its parts, with the music, text and movement working against, rather than with, each other.

While Lucky includes some poignant moments, it is also slow and often sentimental. A lack of specificity, rather than implying universality, reads as a vague and generalised attempt to tell “the” story of “the” refugee when no such thing exists—refugees, as a group, are as diverse and contradictory as any other. I try to encounter each performance on its own terms, but I can’t help comparing Lucky to Khoa Do’s Mother Fish—a magical, universal and yet deeply personal representation also of a boat journey. Both the theatrical and cinematic versions of Mother Fish were masterful. Alongside them and others in the genre, Lucky seems an apprentice work with a way to go before it can refresh the form.


International Performing Arts Network, Lucky, writer Ferenc Alexander Zavaros, director, set designer Sama Ky Balson, collaborative moment director Kirk Page, lighting Ross Graham, costumes Azure Chapman, musical director Karina Bes, sound designer, composer Joseph Nezeti, performers Guy Simon, Hoa X, Drew Wilson, Conrad Le Bron, New Theatre, Newtown, Oct 6-22; http://newtheatre.org.au

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. web

© Caroline Wake; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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