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westralia fantasia

urszula dawkins: heart of gold, pica

Heart of Gold, image courtesy of PICA Heart of Gold, image courtesy of PICA
photo by Kim Tran
“We care not for the polluted ideals of the decadent east, for we know who we are!”, bleats Angus Brown, the unhinged child patriot at the psychic heart of Thea Costantino’s lavishly comic musical, Heart of Gold. This is ‘Westralia’—where secession would surely garner more votes than daylight saving; and where sand, surf and ol’ fashioned values clearly provide rich agistment for new WA production company Hold Your Horses, co-founded by Costantino with visual artists Tarryn Gill and Pilar Mata Dupont.

A beautifully staged rural-gothic extravaganza, Heart of Gold is directed confidently by Zoe Pepper and made larger than life by composer Ash Gibson Grieg and an accomplished cast of actors and dancers. It centres on the hard-done-by Brown family—Iris and her two strange kids, Angus and Violet—who find themselves grappling with the malevolent charms of smooth, manipulative Constable Irving Saddle, an unexpected intruder into their lives in the isolated WA town of Paucity.

Heart of Gold dramatically extends Gill and Dupont’s previous works in the Heart of Gold series, in development since 2004. Its forerunners have largely consisted of sets of lushly produced photographs, tableaux vivants and live art performances memorable for their military-style pin-up girls and lipsticked lifesavers and their conflation of a distinctly Australian 50s kitsch with wartime Hollywood glamour and patriotism, Busby Berkeley style.
Heart of Gold, image courtesy of PICA Heart of Gold, image courtesy of PICA
photo by Kim Tran
The synergy within this team is palpable, and the performers bring such confidence and accuracy to their hammed-up roles that what could read like a bad school play is frequently stunning in its clarity—in moments both of audacious madness (such as the anthem, Sausages, the National Treat, featuring a chorus of sequined snags) and bleak poignancy. Watching Iris and Irving tango their way through a kitchen courtship dance complete with fifties-Latin flute riffs is more than satire: the scene holds real pathos. The same kitchen becomes truly sinister when, amid the dramatic denouement, it becomes populated with a troupe of demented, un-dead soldier girls, who seem as much to offer a last line of defence to poor Iris and Violet as to rally to the cause of regional independence in a world raped and plundered by Saddle and his parasitic kind.

Costantino’s writing is luscious and pointed, the vernacular spot on and the many comic shifts and turns accurately placed. Investing the character of a 12-year old boy with the role of madman, critical enquirer and unsettling animator of the feminine is a stroke of genius. Angus evokes both weird nationalism and Freudian Oedipal angst, extolling the glories of war as the intruder besets his sister and mother.

Heart of Gold, the musical, carries a distinct layer of shadow, exposing the tattered values and desperate hopes of a world reduced to...Paucity. A kind of gothic vaudeville, its tale of paternalistic violence, feminine subjection and patriotism-run-riot faintly echoes Baz Luhrmann’s preposterous Australia, while sticking firmly to its softly lunatic, sandy terrain. It’s a critically aware, overblown lunacy; a cleverly twisted allegory of a quest for independence.
Heart of Gold, image courtesy of PICA Heart of Gold, image courtesy of PICA
photo by Kim Tran

Heart of Gold, script, lyrics Thea Costantino, direction, dramaturgy Zoe Pepper, composition, performers Tim Watts, Shirley Van Sanden, Sarah McKellar, Brendan Ewing, chorus Natalya Alessi, Oda Aunan, Maree Cole, Lily Newbury-Freeman, Whitney Richards, sound design, musical direction Ash Gibson Grieg, choreography, costume design Tarryn Gill, set design Pilar Mata Dupont, lighting Lucy Birkinshaw; Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Oct 29-Nov 14

RealTime issue #93 Oct-Nov 2009 pg.

© Urszula Dawkins; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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