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 Da Contents H2

September 11 2013
Happy as Larry—poor Larry
Fiona Carter: Shaun Parker & Company, Happy As Larry

September 5 2013
Ethereal exchanges
Mike Bodnar: Polytoxic, Tradewinds

September 4 2013
A Winning punch
Nicola Fearn: Roslyn Oades, I’m Your Man

Not so strange strangers
Nicola Fearn: Polytoxic, Trade Winds

August 26 2013
Hands up, head down!
Fiona Carter: Roslyn Oades, I'm Your Man

Happiness against the odds
Kaye Hall: Shaun Parker & Company, Happy as Larry

August 26 2013
Larry is sombre
Nicola Fearn: Shaun Parker & Company, Happy as Larry

Shaken out of the everyday
Nicola Fearn: Yumi Umiumare with Theatre Gumbo, DasSHOKU SHAKE!

The not so sweet science
Mike Bodnar: Roslyn Oades, I'm Your Man

Vigorous ruminations on happiness
Mike Bodnar: Shaun Parker & Company, Happy as Larry

August 23 2013
Art shocks, capitalism quakes!
Kaye Hall: Yumi Umiumare & Theatre Gumbo, DasSHOKU SHAKE!

August 23 2013
Expectations and cultural crossovers
Fiona Carter: Tracks Dance Company, Zombies In the Banyan Tree

Kecak, breakdancing, tension & harmony
Kyle Walmsley: Tracks Dance Company, Zombies In the Banyan Tree


The not so sweet science

Mike Bodnar: Roslyn Oades, I'm Your Man

Mike Bodnar is a Canadian living in Alice Springs. He teaches middle school and every Thursday 5.00-6.00pm he hosts a one-hour roundup of the arts in the Red Centre on 102.1 FM 8CCC

Billy MacPherson, Justin Rosniak,  John Shrimpton, I'm Your Man Billy MacPherson, Justin Rosniak, John Shrimpton, I'm Your Man
photo Heidrun Löhr
When Gus Mercurio, one of the seven boxing personalities represented in I’m Your Man, starts talking about neural synapses and how one fighter’s “brain started givin’ way” I immediately thought of Muhammad Ali. It is hard not to wince whenever I watch that once graceful and eloquent boxer, now living with Parkinson’s disease, struggle to move and talk in TV appearances.

A man renowned as much for his skill in the ring as for his poetic pronouncements and personality in front of the cameras, Ali’s physical decline over time is such a sad testament to the long term effects of the sweet science. This physical decline, as well as the youthful effervescence characteristic of the quest for success, has been on display in Roslyn Oades’ I’m Your Man at the Darwin Festival.

The American born Mercurio is played by Australian actor Justin Rozniak. As an aged and well-spoken Australian icon of the sport, Mercurio, who sits on a stool at the edge of the stage, is a welcome counterpoint to the bubbling and sometimes bumbling dialogue of the younger fighters. The play opens, as any fight would, with the sound of a bell. But in the lead up, as the audience enters the theatre, the actors are already on stage, training. We are looking at a ‘real’ boxing club: punching bags, an exercise bike, gaudy posters of previous fights. And the actors are throwing real punches. Billy McPherson as the grizzled old trainer is frightening in his intensity, holding the focus mitts and barking out punch combinations.

All of the actors in I’m Your Man wear headphones, speaking along to edited interviews with boxers, thus reproducing all the stutters, the pauses and the verbal tics of the original dialogue. The central figure in the production is Sydney based fighter Billy ‘the Kid’ Dib. Oades followed Dib over an 18-month period as he pursued the IBF World Title belt. We hear Dib, convincingly played by Michael Mohammed Ahmed, describing quite candidly what it is like to be a fighter. He traces his career, explaining how he defeated several opponents and how he would deal with defeat should it ever come. We also hear from Wale ‘Lucky Boy’ Omotoso, a Nigerian-Australian fighter who watched his sparring partner die in the ring, and CJ a pugnacious London based fighter with a serious problem with authority. There is also an appearance by the legendary Tony Mundine, sharing his views on the fight game along with his opinions on women, sex and smoking. The dreams, the turbid histories and, most of all, the braggadocio of current and former boxers are laid bare for us on stage.

I’m Your Man is Roslyn Oades’ third effort in a verbatim-theatre trilogy that explores “acts of courage” (program notes). In the bouncy, fast paced dialogue of Billy Dib we have our best opportunity to appreciate some of the sort of courage one might need in order to step into the ring and swing at another person. But even more interesting is the fact that this play, with its particular approach to representing dialogue, is about a sport with a difficult relationship to communication. Just like Jeff Fenech, who tells us that he was probably one of those guys who stopped the nation, so much of a boxer’s persona, and perhaps even his success, depends on what he says about himself. It is, of course, never humble. That unbridled ambition and self-confidence is such an inextricable part of the sport. But there is also an ugly truth about boxing that is exposed in the delivery of the dialogue. The repeated blows to the head result almost unavoidably in brain damage and this often manifests itself in a former fighter’s speech. I’m Your Man, with its use of verbatim dialogue, presents an opportunity not just to see represented the courage and the ambition of boxers young and old, but also to think about their long-term impacts.

Mohammed Ahmad, I'm Your Man Mohammed Ahmad, I'm Your Man
photo Heidrun Löhr
The scenes involving Jeff Fenech made me consider some of those consequences. There is a strain in his voice, some stutters and pauses seeming a little too long in Justin Rozniak’s account of the character. They might well be simply the verbal tics, the “unique qualities of speech patterns” (program notes), that Oades sought to capture in her interviews, but they could also be evidence of serious and irreparable brain injuries that boxing has wrought. When considering the fact that Fenech, like others in the play, are former boxers talking about their success it is not easy to ignore the thought that the verbal stumbling might be a result of that success. Interspersing the testimonies of older boxers with younger ones makes this thought more poignant.

Explaining her use of verbatim theatre for this production, Oades writes of her long held fascination with the “unique qualities of speech patterns, individual vocabularies and group conversations” (program notes). Over the course of the 70-minute production we are treated to a series of such speech patterns that culminate in a wonderfully realistic depiction of a pre-match build up with Bill ‘The Kid’ Dib. We follow Billy and his team into a dimly lit dressing room before his test against Jorge Macierva. While Dibs bounces around the dressing room floor his trainers and corner men repeat over and over variations on “How Billy is going to destroy the Mexican.” The group exchange is as smooth as Billy’s nimble movements and provides a fascinating insight into the unconscious work of coordination in which humans partake when conversing in a group. All the body language and facial expressions that enable one to find the right moment to talk and argue are accurately replicated by the assembled cast.

As these men—likely fighters themselves with their own injuries to endure—usher another ambitious fighter to the brink, feeding him dreams of triumph along the way, it is hard not to wonder if it is all worth it. I’m Your Man is certainly worth it. It’s an intensely arresting meditation on a colourful but potentially damaging path to glory.

2013 Darwin Festival, A Belvoir Production, I'm Your Man, creator Roslyn Oades, performers Michael Mohammed Ahmad, Katia Molino, Billy McPherson, Justin Rosniak, John Shrimpton, sound design Bob Scott, lighting & set design Neil Simpson, movement director Lee Wilson; Brown's Mart Theatre, 23-24 August

The NT Writers’ Centre’s RealTime Workshop project is supported by the Australian Government Regional Arts Fund and the Northern Territory Government.

Mike Bodnar is a Canadian living in Alice Springs. He teaches middle school and every Thursday 5.00-6.00pm he hosts a one-hour roundup of the arts in the Red Centre on 102.1 FM 8CCC

© Mike Bodnar; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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