Perfect political poignancy

Beautiful One Day (Ilbijerri Theatre Company and Belvoir)

QPAC, Cremorne Theatre

September 23 – 26

Far North Queensland’s Palm Island is a place of perfect beauty. But this is an image not often projected in the negative media coverage of the Island’s life, especially since the 2004 death in custody of resident Mulrunji Doomadgee, resulting riot, declaration of a State of Emergency and the trial of police officer Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley. That is, until “Beautiful One Day”, from Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre and Ilbijerri (Australia’s longest running Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander theatre company), which gives voice to the local Indigenous community with a view towards understanding and a new future.

And the show’s appeal is certainly its authenticity. More theatrical documentary than dramatic presentation, it interweaves personal stories of the performers with court transcripts, interviews with Palm Island locals and re-enactments. Starring in the production’s cast are three residents of Palm Island, including Doomadgee’s niece Kylie who takes audience members from anger to sorrow as she laments of how it breaks her heart to know that her uncle isn’t on the island anymore.

The Palm Island story is, of course, about more than just one incident and the production does an excellent job in balancing its story with initial inclusion of some history of the treatment of Australian Aboriginals on the island, beginning with its hostile origins as a virtual off-shore penal colony for Indigenous Australians under the auspices of the paternalistic Aboriginal Protection Board. A monologue from Dwyer which lists the prohibitions of the Aboriginals ­Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act’s total control is a shocking reality check, with punishment for its breeches including imprisonment and public humiliation. It also serves as humbling indication of the resilience and strength of a proud group of people.

When the circumstances of Doomadgee’s death from injuries of the type usually found in car and plane accident victims are explored, they are handled from within this context. The result is an intelligent response that sees Hurley blamed but not demonised at the expense of long-term issues. The incident is shared as a recreation, wisely from the show’s non-indigenous actors; actress Jane Phegan shares the verbatim court transcript words of lawyers and investigators, as well as the coroner’s post-mortem report, while Paul Dwyer speaks the verbatim ­transcript responses of Hurley, the officer charged with Doomadgee’s assault and manslaughter (and later found not guilty).

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Not only is the recreation enacted live on stage, but it is also used as visual reference upon the four backdrop screens within subsequent show scenes. Although clever in their early-show incorporation of live video, projection of historical documents and photos, and archival footage, at times, there is so much happening on stage already that these can appear as a distraction from the drama. However, the final act inclusion of intercut projected interviews with real Island residents serves the show well, cementing its thematic ambition to not perpetuate blame, but rather foster understanding.

Cultural nationalism in the arts needs to be promoted. “Beautiful One Day” is not just important as an Australian work, but as one that does not shy away from the discomfort of our post-colonial history. It has many confrontational moments, but they are tempered by both humour and poignancy, eliciting an understandably complicated emotional response befitting the importance of a story that continues to have legacy to this day. “Beautiful One Day” is essential not because of its politics, however, but its humanity, making it a perfect example of theatre that matters.

Brisfest brightenment and enlightenment

It was difficult not to think pink in the vicinity of the CBD’s George Street when a massive marquee took over Queen’s Park as host to celebration of 2015’s Brisbane Festival launch. With Principal Partner, Treasury Casino and Hotel also lit up for the occasion, the excitement was mind-blowing (to take the festival’s tagline.)

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Although the festival is Australia’s youngest international arts festival, its growth in audience attendance and program size since it was made an annual event in 2009, affirms its role in connecting artists and audiences through attracting world class entertainment. And in his inaugural year as festival director, David Berthold is certainly bringing the world to Brisbane from September 5 – 26, first and foremost through the drawing together of four shows umbrella-ed as ‘Congo Connections, showcasing the power, politics and personality of the unique African nation. These include “Coup Fatal”, which will see Congolese Countertenor Serge Kakudji joining 12 musicians to refashion some of the greats of baroque music with pop, rock and jazz, and also “Macbeth”, a thrilling showcase of Verdi’s operatic version set in the Congo.

MACBETH

The provocative programming continues with “Flexn”, a piece created by Brooklyn hip-hop pioneers of the relatively new dance from flex, which opened only months ago in New York City. Infused as it is with the unrest following the extreme circumstances in the US in aftermath of police shootings of unarmed black suspects, the piece is sure to stir as well as reflect deep resonance with our own national narrative. And to have it playing almost alongside “Beautiful One Day” is quite the coup, for this acclaimed theatrical documentary promises to be a gripping look at the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee in police custody on Palm Island and the subsequent aftermath uprisings, even more so by its inclusion of Palm Island residents (including Doomadgee’s niece).

HONEY

Then there is also “Hot Brown Honey”, a cabaret of less drama but just as much political passion, returning in an explosion of colour, culture and controversy to the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts to serve up some comedy, circus, striptease, song, dance and poetry while smashing a few stereotypes along the way.

There is similar promise of stereotype shattering in W!ld Rice’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”, as part of the festival’s Singapore Series to mark the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence. The gender-bending play, which features an all-male cast (no drag) has been a huge hit in Singapore, despite homosexuality being illegal there, and promises the joy of Wilde’s wit, with a twist.

Brisbane Festival is Brisbane’s biggest party, vibrant, lively and unique. And September 2015 promises to build upon this with events for cabaret connoisseurs, circus lovers and a music enthusiasts featuring alongside its thought-provoking and politically charged works, to ‘brighten and enlightened the world with mix of the merry and the meaty’, Berthold described it, for amongst the big subjects and serious conversations, there is also promise of some sure fun.

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The creators of “La Soiree” are returning to the Spiegeltent with “Club Swizzle”, which promises to be just as debaucherously sassy as its circus cabaret forerunner. “Thum Prints” sees beatboxing virtuous Tom Thum matching forces with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and “Symphony For Me” sees the QSO putting on a free concert based on the submitted favourite classical pieces of some of its audience members. The music program also includes an environmentally focused muliti-media collaboration between former Powderfinger frontman Bernard Fanning, four-time Aria Award winner Katie Noonan and renowned Western Australian author Tim Winton, along with around-the-world solo sailor Jessica Watson, as part of the 50th anniversary of the Australian Marine Conservation Society and also “A State of Grace” tribute to the music of Tim and Jeff Buckley, featuring a swag of acclaimed musical performers.

Brisbane audiences are sure to be tickled pink with the program, which features hundreds of artists from five continents, including a number of free events (because arts should be accessible to everyone). Although there are many ways to enjoy a festival, exhilaration comes from the connection and accumulation of its program’s parts, and in 2015, this promises to be truer than ever. With so much theatre, music, dance, circus, film and lots more, there are countless opportunities to brighten and enlighten. Tickets are on sale from June 30, so grab a program and start planning how you are going to paint the town pink this September.

PROGRAMS