Monday 13 June 2016

Hipbone Sticking Out - Theatre Review

What: Hipbone Sticking Out
Where: The Arts Centre – part of the 2014 Melbourne Festival
When: October 17 – 21
Written and Directed by: Scott Rankin
Performed by: Josie Alec, John Bennett, Dudley Billing, Patrick Churnside, Shaneena Clanton, Cho Cleary, Nelson Coppin, Max Coppin, Martin Crewes, Maverick Eaton, Sheridan Harbridge, David Hewitt, Pansy Hicks, Trevor Jamieson, Alison Lockyer, Maria Lurighi, Lex Marinos, Natalie O’Donnell, Allery Sandy, Shaeola Toby, Yumi Umiamare, Jaymee-lee Walters, and Michael Whalley.
Musical Direction by: Nate Gilkes
Choreography by: Adelina Larsson and Yumi Umiamare
Set Design by: Genevieve Dugard
Costumes by: Tess Schofield
Lighting by: Matt Cox
Sound by: Jeremy Silver
Video by: Benjamin Ducroz

Hipbone Sticking Out is a bold and brave and important piece of theatre.  It is produced by Big hArt in association with the Roebourne community and is being presented in the Playhouse as part of the Melbourne Festival.

Hipbone Sticking Out is one of the outcomes of the Yijala Yala Project.  The Yijala Yala Project uses arts and digital media skill-building to engage young people and keep them out of the juvenile justice system, working alongside and being guided by the Aboriginal community of Roebourne, WA.  The Yijala Yala project is an initiative of Big hART, a company dedicated to bringing artists and communities together on projects that empower positive change through the arts.  Their motto is ‘it is harder to hurt someone if you know their story’.

Hipbone Sticking Out tells the story of change forced on the Aboriginal community of Roebourne since colonisation.  The story is told from the viewpoint of John Pat who is on the verge of death.  He meets the ferryman, but this is not his mythology so he is confused. 

John Pat is a significant person in Australian history.  In 1983 John Pat, a member of the Roebourne community who was being groomed for leadership, died in custody.  He was one of many, but the uproar which arose from his death led to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

Act one of Hipbone Sticking Out introduces Pat to Greco-Roman history, through the European expansion, and finally to Australian colonisation and first contact.  Many stories are told here.  The loss of latin is compared to the loss of indigenous languages. The spread of plagues is shown to be caused by the accidental sneeze of a colonist during an exchange of gifts.  The pearl is used as a metaphor for the European ‘itch’ to explore and colonise the world. The introduction of indigenous slavery through the pearl diving industry is exposed, and, most significantly, the Flying Foam Massacre.

This first act is full of humour, and is chock full of songs and physical comedy.  Rankin has created a ‘mashup’ of European performance styles and music to show the depth and extent of the history and influences that are involved in telling the story of Australia.  His point is that it all starts right from the beginning – from the beginning of our indigenous peoples and the beginning of ‘western’ civilization. 

One of the funnier moments is when Pluto (ruler of the underworld in Greek mythology) and Pat argue about the origin of racism.  Pluto insists that racism was invented by the Greeks and Pat argues that Aboriginals invented it 40 000 years earlier than that. 

The first act is full of this kind of irreverent humour.  Most of the time the butt of the joke falls on the Europeans, but the Roebourne community believe that the way forward is through maragutharra – working together, so there is a little bit of poking fun at themselves as well.  Rankin is exploring what we all have in common rather than looking for differences, so that we can find that way forward together.  I admit, though, there are definitely a few barbs that hit home hard for immigrant Australians.

The second act is a bit less successful dramatically.  This act is full of statistics, Royal Commission proceedings, and prosthelatizing.  There is a lot of information to get across so Rankin very cleverly uses Brechtian epic thatre techniques and I was very strongly reminded of the final scene in The Exception and The Rule. In the end I thought the first act was a bit too long, with not enough of the pertinent information and too many irrelevant ‘cute’ performance techniques, and the second act carried too much of the information and needed some livening up.
Dugard’s set is grand, with a slanted parquet rostrum and a large stone arch reminiscent of Greece or Rome.  The rostrum is exquisite, with seating coming in and out, sections which come apart, and clever references to the land and boats. 

The arch and the backdrop created surfaces for Ducroz’s videography.  The videography was perhaps a bit overwhelming.  It was clever, but it sometimes just felt like an MTV music clip.
Schofield’s costumes are clever and fun, and really help us to understand what is going on as people come on and off stage continually representing different time periods and cultures.

As I said at the start, Hipbone Sticking Out is brave and bold, but there are a lot of ideas going on.  It needs a bit more dramaturgy to completely work.  It is a funny and beautiful play though, and the message is wonderful.  The Roebourne community believe that the past and the future are one continuum, that heritage rests in the hands of the young people ‘now’, and that the way forward for our country is maragutharra – working together.

4 stars

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