“NO TIME TO LOSE”
THE POLITICAL HEARTS OF CHILDREN
presented by subtlenuance at the TAP Gallery, April 2013
Some years ago I attended a ‘Welcome-to-Country’ which preceded the National Young Writer’s Festival up in Newcastle. The traditional owner hosting the welcome sat everyone in a circle and told us some of the background of the place, of the Awabakal and Worimi people and how they first began to use coal way back before colonisation, and how the knowledge had been passed on through word-of-mouth in gatherings just like the one we were in that day. She asked the group to each tell something about from where they had come, myself from Sydney, others from Western Australia or overseas – it took a while (there were forty of us in the group) – but as a custom, it’s central to the welcoming process, for understanding where we have come from is a vital part of knowing who and where we are. At the end of the welcome, she thanked us said she looked forward to seeing us around the place over the course of the festival weekend. As we all got up to leave, almost offhandedly she said “and I want to hear those stories”.
I kept thinking of that day in the post-show haze of wonder. Those stories that define us, as a people, as an individual, as a nation, as a world, can so easily slip from the memory but when told, can take on such power to change lives. It’s evolution on a granular scale – and that’s why this show, with such a deceptively simple premise, is a vastly important piece of theatre. Seven actors, passing on a tale from their childhood, each defining moments of personal truth, pain, glory or fear – shared with seven writers and retold, stylised, cut up and played out in the empty space – we recall the words of Brook’s seminal text “where anything can happen”. Each tale is a truth and an exaltation, a memory and a trick of the mind – and all of them much, much stranger than fiction. This is a rare find for theatre-hunters, the opening night audience laughing, crying and so privileged to find insight into not one but seven beautiful minds. I’m going back again.
The Political Hearts of Children, featuring James Balian, Mark Dessaix, Rosanna Easton, Carla Nirella, Kelly Robinson, Kathryn Schuback and Stephen Wilkinson. Written by Alison Rooke, Katie Pollock, Kimberley Lipschus, Victoria Haralabidou, Benito Di Fonzo, Didem Caia and James Balian, directed by Paul Gilchrist. Playing until April 21, 2013 at the TAP Gallery, Sydney.
POST-SCRIPT: further reflections
After going back for a second bite – the show equally as enjoyable, in different ways – I want to just expand on what I mean by “evolution on a granular scale”. I meant the phrase sincerely but it has the unfortunate reek of pretension without context – which becomes very difficult given my hatred of spoilers! But I digress…
What struck me was the sense of rediscovery of innocence, a recurring thread throughout the pieces. The opening monologue, a back and forth between the adult and child versions of Kathryn Schuback on a trip to the beach, demonstrates just how easily we can forget ourselves, our childhood dreams “what do you want to be when you grow up?”… realistic or not “do you have to go to school to be an astronaut?” and the natural comedic pitch of such a conversation set the tone of reflective wonder. There’s some dramaturgical nous at play as well, rather than setting each tale back-to-back-to-back, this piece and the thrilling Skink-Hunt from Stephen Wilkinson & Benito Di Fonzo are broken up into sections, bookending some of the other pieces neatly and interweaving between threads, giving Political Hearts an overall tapestry feel throughout.
With each of the actor-writer teams given a similar brief, there are wildly different results. Some of the stories take the form of a set of impressionistic memories, such as Rosanna Easton’s fascinating recollection of early life in New Zealand, some key moments counterpointing the overall metaphor of the hothouse-orchid, yearning for more but trapped in the “always winter” of adolescent discontent. A recurring motif: frustration, disappointment, oppression and hope, throughout each piece, ranging in scale but always uniquely personal to the world of the actor – and for the young, that world is nothing less than everything they’ve ever known. Whether it’s a deadly backyard war-zone, or the grandparents’ farm disappearing only to live on in the memories of the now grown-up cousins, or the world of school corridors and associated bullies – the vividness of what seems so small today can pull a thread on our own tiny worlds.
We can relate to something in each, or imagine the rest. The imagination’s power intensified by the bare stage and raw images, culminating in the sudden shift in distance to a world most of us only read about. An actual warzone – Iraq, 1963 – James Balian’s tale of a trip to the dentist in the midst of a revolution. It’s a strange transition, still from the child’s perspective but fifty years gone. We’ve just come from the joyous victory of Boy Wilkinson’s heightened battle against the magpies for his prized skink. So it’s an abrupt reminder of the breadth of the world experience and its universality. These are all stories of Australia, even when they aren’t, because we’re here, now, telling them, sharing ourselves. The Welcome to Country I refer to earlier because storytelling is a vital part of our Indigenous heritage, an something we must begin to embrace if we are to come to terms with our identity, our identities as a nation today.
Oppression and fear can come in many forms. Sometimes it’s imagined, sometimes it’s projected, sometimes it’s very real, and sometimes it’s simply easier to pretend it’s not there. It’s how we react that shapes us. “We grow up.” Lest we Forget.
Entry filed under: Inside Theatre REVIEWS, New Work, Sydney THEATRE. Tags: Alison Rooke, Benito Di Fonzo, Carla Nirella, Didem Caia, featuring James Balian, Kathryn Schuback, Katie Pollock, Kelly Robinson, Kimberley Lipschus, Mark Dessaix, Paul Gilchrist, Rosanna Easton, Stephen Wilkinson, subtlenuance, sydney, TAP Gallery, The Political Hearts of Children, Victoria Haralabidou.