Revolutionary revelations

One the Bear (La Boite, Campbelltown Arts Centre and Black Honey Company)

La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre

October 10 – 21

In true international award-winning Black Honey Company style, “One the Bear” bursts upon the audience in an apocalyptic aesthetic avalanche as its stars, the story’s titular One (Candy Bowers) and her best friend Ursula (Nancy Denis), emerge from a rubbish skip. One and Ursula are bears attempting to escape a hunter, such is the reality of their untold herstories, which form the basis of this enigmatic work.


The abiding hyper-reality aesthetic comes courtesy of Video Designer Optikal Bloc and the accompanying explosion of fluorescent colour details down to not just performer glasses but even the eyelashes behind them. As always, music is at the heart of the Black Honey production with composition and sound designer Kim ‘Busty Beatz’ Bowers’ creation crafting a hip-hop stadium concert within the Roundhouse Theatre space that, unfortunately, initially competes with performer delivery of song lyrics.


Things soon settle beyond performance art into a story as One starts talking about her mother’s legacy and the narrative reveals the story of the two bear friends finding their relationship in disarray as One gains celebrity status. Reduced and seduced into the all-white commoditised, exploitative and materialistic world, she struggles to stay true to intention to finish what her mother began and her determination to never to become a pet.


As a fairy tale for the hip hop generation written by Candy Bowers, “One the Bear” represents allegorical storytelling at its most engaging in its representation of inter-generational colonisation and assimilation, with a modern twist. The work, which has grown out of the lived experience of its Black Honey feminist dreamer creators, has been devised with an ideal teenage audience in mind and those in the opening night crowd within this demographic certainly seemed to be engaged and empowered by its prompt to reflect critically on the impact of media saturation, culture consumption and colonisation.


The hour long show flies by in a cyclone of colour, movement and energy. This requires physical performances from Bowers and Denis as they shake their little tails all around the stage. Bowers conveys both strength and vulnerability as the titular One and Denis’ versatility impresses without detracting from Bowers’ essential presence. Indeed, Denis is hugely entertaining, not just as best friend Ursula, but as the bear enthusiast journalist who discovers One as a star whilst undercover “21 Jump Street” style.


Memorably, the story is told in rhyme. The enticing rhythm this creates, moves things along, but not at the expense of pace and pause, which is used to control not only the narrative but audience response to it. And the rhymes become entertainment in themselves, working even when (or maybe because) they don’t entirely work, with interactions like “this cereal tastes like latex …. what do you think is going to happen next?” adding an additional layer to the show’s humour and a script that is full of funny lines.


“One the Bear” is an innovative work that takes its audience on a loud, proud and powerful journey in its smash of traditional notions of political theatre and show of how all theatre spaces should be for everyone. If you like to be challenged by what you see on stage, you won’t regret giving your time to this brave, different and daring work and will not only enjoy its paw-up revolution, but be empowered to growl along and share its message about sisters never being defined by misters.

Photos c/o – Dylan Evans

The man on the mountaintop

The Mountaintop (Queensland Theatre Company)

QPAC, Playhouse

February 22 – March 16

The premise of “The Mountaintop” is simple: on the eve of Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination, he interacts with Camae, a feisty first-day-on-the-job maid at the Lorraine Motel, who is sent to Room 306 with his coffee and newspaper. We all presume to know the man who was Martin Luther King Jrn, but who exactly is this Camae? And why does she know all that she does? The answers are quite unexpected, revealed as the play moves from absorbing realism to heightened theatricality.

Like many people, I’ve done the Memphis pilgrimage to all things Graceland and Civil Rights, including the museum that was once the Lorraine Hotel, and having seen the room in which this play is set, appreciate the authenticity of the set design. This, however, is where accuracy ends, for this is not a historical re-enactment, but a warts and all reflection on the life of an inspirational leader.

King is presented as a flawed man rather than a historical figure. Having returned to his motel room on a stormy night, having just delivered his inspirational, yet ominous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech at the Memphis Mason Temple, in support of a sanitation workers’ strike, he is tired, disillusioned, a little paranoid and quite concerned about threats on his life. And Pacharo Mzembe’s humble portrayal is a fittingly grounded one of a mortal man, ordinary in his smelly feet, chain smoking and cheeky extra-marital flirtations, yet burdened by the lofty expectations of those who seek his moral guidance.

Mountaintop 2

Candy Bowers eases into the role of Camae, just as the audience adjusts to the nuances of the distinctive Memphis accent with which she schools the Doctor (“I don’t need a PHD to give you knowledge” she says.) Her charismatic performance is a highlight, with her Southern sass sparking the drama to the point that it sometimes reduces the impact of Mzembe’s down-to-earth portrayal.

Camae is bold and brash as she confronts King with arguments counter to his central ideals of civil disobedience and peaceful resistance.  And it is here where the script truly shines, with lively language, witty dialogue and intelligent historical references, such as to Malcolm X and Jesse Jackson. Unfortunately, this lures audience members into anticipation of a naturalistic production, before undermining them with a sudden, uncomfortable shift in style from the realistic to the fanciful.

While the deliberate subversion of audience expectations initially fosters an alienating experience, this is, in part, compensated by the drama of King’s struggle in the latter part of the play as he faces his own morality in some poignant scenes, where he is assured that his men will know what to do. This reassurance is majestically achieved through the clairvoyant gift of the final scenes. Bowers, accompanied by a rousing montage of footage depicting civil rights movement through to the present day, raps about the baton being passed on, as the depth of the Playhouse stage is majestically revealed. The projections by media designers optikal bloc are technically impressive and powerful in message, allowing the ultimately uplifting theme of the work to resonate, particularly in a nation such as ours, with its own history of oppression.

Although it is a story of just two characters, set in one room, “The Mountaintop” has a lot of things going on within its 90 minute (no intermission) running time. And this confusion aside, it is an intelligent, energetic, poetic and profound play, though just not as simple as you might be expecting.


Photo 1 c/o – Queensland Theatre Company