“It’s not America. Is it?”

20/05/2010 at 5:24 pm Leave a comment


at Performance Space, CarriageWorks, May 2010

This is a haunting, confronting and beautiful piece of theatre presented by the Anino Shadowplay Collective from the Philippines in collaboration with Urban Theatre Projects. Delving into Filipino culture from a very personal perspective; it offers a combination of image theatre, body-sculpture and oral history to communicate a complex and binding relationship between identity, history, family and tradition in a post-colonial world.

For those unfamiliar; the history of the place is a fractious mix of war, revolution and occupation that certainly predates Magellan’s arrival in 1521. There are layers upon layers of cultural influence. It’s partly to do with the geographical significance of the region as a gateway between Asia and the Pacific – but everyone seems to have had a crack at controlling the archipelago at some point; from early Malayan empires, Islamic Sultanates, Spanish colonial Catholics, Americans (in a sort of on-again-off-again-love-hate-thing), Japanese occupiers, more Americans post-WWII, and more recently a tenuous Democratic Republic with occasional bouts of martial law. Even the British had a couple of years rule in there somewhere. It’s not my intent to be overly flippant here, but the complexities of the historic context for this work are beyond my ability to describe in detail – when the point of this article is to talk about the art. And all of this is crucial to the central metaphor of The Folding Wife, and the depiction of Filipino women as a proud and courageous people.

Beneath all this political context we are given a quite personal window into family life, as performed by Valerie Berry with an eloquent wink at her cultural foibles, it’s a story that delights as much as shocks. There are visual gags aplenty, not the least of which is the intricate shadow-work creating a shifting, multi-layered backdrop to the performance. It’s a simple enough illusion, the shadowplay artists are even visible on stage, we can see everything they do, but the effect is hugely atmospheric as they enhance the various anecdotes with a range of colours, prisms and textures created through light and shadow. And it’s not just a literal light and shadow we’re getting, there are some genuine moments of fear and mirth created through these projections. On a creative and technical level it’s a fascinating use of technology, but in terms of adding to the drama of the work it’s surprising how easily the technique slips into theatrical convention. It probably helps that the artists are visible, occasionally interacting with the performer like a puppeteer, or live foley; by creating an overt theatricality, we can forget about needing to suspend our disbelief and simply enjoy it. Which is a neat shell game, as the style of the piece is less formal, but the truth of the story is what compels us to listen. By forgoing realism – we are allowed a far greater access to the reality of Filipino life.

With such rich symbolism in play it is difficult to talk about the play without giving away some of the more beautiful moments I am tempted to reference, but it would ruin the joy of the surprise – like a wonderful sequence where a pair of shoes comes to represent an entire nexus of the issues surrounding the work. Like following in generational footsteps. Like the shock of Western consumerism on ancient tradition (hello Imelda Marcos). Like conservatism versus the twenty-first Century. Another hilarious episode brings culture shock back home through the use of kitchen utensils – impossible to describe – but echoing deep tones of how everyday objects carry all manner of political ramifications, with consequences that are both global and familial at once. There is an Australian connection too, but one that is central to the story so I am choosing not to elaborate here, other than to say how important it is that stories such as these are brought to the public consciousness. Without them we are doomed to see our nation always in the shadow of our transpacific cousins, instead of as a part of the world as a whole. And we’re not America. Are we?

The Folding Wife plays at Performance Space, Carriageworks until Saturday May 22, and ArtsHouse, Melbourne from May 26 – 29 Featuring Valerie Berry, Datu Arellano and Teta Tulay (for Anino Shadowplay Collective)


Entry filed under: Inside Theatre REVIEWS, Sydney THEATRE.

I had no idea playwrights were all so good looking… MAINSTRRRM IN A TEACUP

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VICTOR SANCZ vassanc [AT] gmail.com

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