Which Way Home (ILBIJERRI Theatre Company)
Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre
August 8 – 11
“Which Way Home” begins with sand spiralling down to the side of the Visy Theatre stage, to create a mound of metaphoric memories. It’s an evocative accompaniment to the main stage action, which is of a road trip, signposted by the backdrop map of the Queensland, showing The Great Inland Way (design by Emily Barrie).
Tash (Katie Beckett) is taking her father (Kamahi Djordon King) on a journey to his ancestral country, where the sky is higher and the world goes on forever. She has planned it to precision, down to the anticipation of timed stops along the way. But Tash’s dad is not one to do things according to others’ agendas. And it is not long into the trip back to his birthplace that the playful rituals of road trip snacks, competition over temperature control and napping passenger snores, morph into something more. Indeed, the nature of their relationship is explored as they both bicker and reminisce about times passed as he raised her alone. But clearly there are things that they aren’t talking about, such as the absence of Tash’s mother. As flashback scenes entertain, they bring some explanation, but it never feels entirely satisfying.
Maybe because so there is much exposition at the start of the trip or because, at 70 minutes, the show is relatively short, but in some ways, “Which Way Home” leaves the audience wanting more adequate exploration. There is a lot of good-natured and identifiable humour though and those who have themselves experienced life in country towns not even big enough to feature on the backdrop map, will joy in their own recollections of determining town status by their supermarket (Coles or IGA) and, for the fancy-pants ones, if they have a Target Country.
Djordon King brings an endearing charm to the cheekiness of Tash’s dad through his one-liner humour, more spritely perhaps than his health problems would prescribe though. And Beckett brings a unique mix of level-headedness and heart to the role of Tash, which one might expect given that the story is drawn from her own memories of growing up with her single Aboriginal father. Particularly, her switches between present-day adult and much younger girl in flashback show her skill as a performer.
Surprisingly, given its direction by Rachael Maza “Which Way Home” is a bit of a slow starter. It takes its time to find an eventual rhythm in spite of its early wandering, however, and its ultimate journey takes audiences to some comforting places in its philosophising over family, home, land and death’s role as one of the certainties of life. As a personal story, the charming, heart-warming dramedy, is in many ways small, but also simultaneously thematically big in the universality of its experiences.
The two-hander nature of the show makes it a straightforward enough work, but one that is still perhaps yet to realise its full potential, particularly its presentation of what it means to be Indigenous in Australia today. Infused, as it is with humour and heart, it would be well-suited to exploration on the big screen, as tales taken from truth so often are.