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Playing father

Nicola Shafer

Daddy, a 60-strong female cast dressed in drag, impersonating their fathers, is the most recent work from the Women’s Circus, 14 years after its inception as a project of Footscray Community Arts Centre.
Daddy Daddy
photo Viv Mehes
The performance opened with the band (elevated high above the performance space throughout) breaking into Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life while a shadow puppet backdrop of wriggling sperm gave way to a swarm of performers dressed in white performing tumbles, somersaults and cartwheels. True to the Circus’ reputation, a lively and cheeky performance looked set to unfold. After some hesitant moments the performers regained their energy for what would be the crux of the show—the impersonation of key daddy archetypes from “Matty, the young skater dad from Croydon”, to “Stevie Boy the worker”, “Frank from Toowoomba” and “Father David the Vicar” among others. All in good fun, the array of drag daddies seemed jolly enough, and there was an atmosphere of warm-hearted nostalgia both from audience and performers, as each recognised the personal somewhere within the array of dads who, it must be said were caricatured more than “played” by the women—I never got the feeling I was watching a man, just a woman sending up a man.

But while the claim that the performance was a light-hearted take on the characteristics of men we’ve each known in some way as ‘father’ would have held up at this point, it was unfortunately intercepted by something entirely different—images of a series of famous male personalities. For me, what was emerging as very personal, with some bittersweet meanings, dissolved into a confused and unresolved statement about men generally.

Of course, it would be simplistic to imagine a female performance group— indeed a group that has celebrated its ability to engage women who have survived sexual abuse and assists them to reclaim their bodies—might create a work dedicated to impersonating the male without getting into some complexities. But for me, the insertion of a montage of male personalities including Ned Kelly, John Howard, Elvis, Buddah, the Pope, Osama Bin Laden, Darth Vader and George Bush, took what could have been a strong and poignant statement about the personal and gave the piece a rather generic and blurry slant.

Still, the performance displayed another important feature of the Women’s Circus—its ability to create shows that are lively, funny and spectacular. While not a circus in the traditional sense (not a trapeze, clown or animal in sight), a fabulously energetic band and the clever use of some fairly simple acrobatic movements kept the show in the realm of spectacle.

Energy aside, it was in fact 2 slower paced scenes depicting moments from the dads’ lives which worked extremely well in the use of space, costuming and movement. The first saw the women intertwine their bodies to imitate a variety of insects in a re-enactment of “scout leader dad” encouraging his boys to chase and capture bugs. The all-white costuming, smooth and synchronised movement and lighting produced an exquisite moment.

The second involved the women in pairs, recreating a 1950s dance scene. Using sheets draped in loops from the ceiling, the performers were able to emulate the twists and turns of rock’n’roll and swing dance moves in a gymnastic way that heightened and lengthened the moments of suspension, all executed to the reading of a lovely piece of prose about the moment “mum meets dad.”

Indeed much of the performance was presented with prose read by members of the group as the movement unfolded on stage. Once again, it was a method that drew the audience into the personal and gave the performance a sense of a nostalgia that worked very well except where undermined by the iconic images.

The work reached a climax with the women lining up, holding hand-written messages to their fathers including “My mum is my dad”, “I love you dad” and “I don’t have a dad.” Daddy finally hit the personal note that might have been strengthened and celebrated throughout the performance.

The Women’s Circus, Daddy, director Donna Jackson, musical director Kim Bastan, shadow puppetry Lynne Kent, lighting Jenny Hector, sound Dawn Holland, production manager Jo Leishman; Kindred Rehearsal Studios, Melbourne,Nov 16-Dec 3, 2005

RealTime issue #71 Feb-March 2006 pg. 30

© Nicola Shafer; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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