Review | Laura Money
In a world where the Noongar language is spoken by all, a yarn about a Scottish king is retold.
Hecate emerges from the very heart of the earth as she feels her land is dying. She laments the withering of her trees, her bushland, her water beds, her animals, and her people. She is a spiritual force who oversees Macbeth’s all-consuming fight for power – a silent figure striving to restore balance to Country. The queen of witches, played with dignity and raw emotion by Della Rae Morrison is a figure traditionally absent from productions of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but here in Yirra Yaakin‘s stunning adaptation she refers to deeper, more ancient traditions, and remains at the heart of the entire work.
This production for PERTH FESTIVAL goes beyond just translating Shakespeare into Noongar – there is so much more than just choosing words in a different language. The idea was conceived by Kyle J Morrison who says “Our performers aren’t just saying words, transplanting or replacing English words with Noongar words. We’re actually speaking the Noongar language in all of its philosophy and capacity.” Hecate is a full-scale spiritual experience, it channels ancient storytelling practices that course through the veins of the cast – they live and breathe the tale – it’s intertwined within the character’s mythology. It is elegant, lyrical, and simply stunning, and I defy you not to have a lump in your throat throughout.
Morrison is compelling. There is a calm stoicism that follows her as she sings her song of the dying land to the Mischief Makers – almost the rest of the cast – and they answer her call. Through a soundscape perfectly designed by Dr Clint Bracknell the bushland of the Wadjuk Noongar region is evoked in a series of frankly brilliant techniques – the audience is surrounded by the actors who click and clap, whistle and recreate birdsong – at times reaching cacophonous heights. Three Mischief Makers replace the witches – and are way more effective – playfully messing about and catching sounds before bucking up and dealing with the task at hand. Kyle J Morrison, Mark Nannup and Ian Wilkes take familial bonds to a whole new level – they cavort about, reveling in their mischief and draw power from Hecate herself. Their dancing evokes the animals and nature of the land they are grateful to play on in a metaphor for the entire company itself.
As Morrison said, Noongar language is a philosophy and to see these Mischief Makers dance with their dialogue, to see Morrison switch from lilting words to heartfelt song, we are witnessing the intimate intertwining of language, song, and life that Noongar culture encompasses. Every single performer puts their entire body and soul into their performance – you will not struggle to understand what is going on, even if you only know the handful of terms so thoughtfully placed in the program! Trevor Ryan is every bit the King as he commands the stage, striding across with a gravitas that is honestly terrifying. His energy is countered by Maitland Schnaars as Macbeth – he appears very still, yet haunted by his thoughts of ambition. He strikes the balance between charming host and murderous fiend. Alongside Rubeun Yorkshire as Banquo he retains a calm veneer, only breaking it when not in his presence. Yorkshire is every bit the offsider – he fashions his expression into neutrality when talking to Macbeth, only to express his concern through his eyes to the audience.
Hecate is an absolute sensation, due largely to its collaborative ethos. It is the work of many people’s ideas and talents being used to perfection. Director Kylie Bracknell [Kaarljilba Kaardn] elicits the best from the performers, sound, lighting, set, and audience. From whooping and cheering to marching solemnly down the aisles – and literal burials and bursting forth from within the earth and water – Bracknell’s vision is one that is breathtaking. The set is simple, yet effective. Designed by Zoe Atkinson it is a raised back, covered in muted coloured strips of canvas, there are two trapdoors that are revealed to maximum effect, and at the heart of the stage is a waterhole – lit from within. Mark Howett‘s lighting design takes its cue from the muted tones of the set and costuming, yet still manages to bring that elusive quality of light that is so intrinsic to this area. He creates rain, lightning, evil spirits, and uplifting ones – the pure white light that bathes Hecate as she passes on the crown to her ancestral daughter is cleansing and healing at once.
Bracknell excels in creating strong visuals – Cezera Critti-Schnaars is filled with the exuberance of youth as she bounds around the stage as Fleance, and is folded into safety, escaping through one of Atkinson’s cleverly hidden trapdoors. Bobbi Henry smugly looks down her nose at a triumphant gathering as she ascends the throne through violence – the party guests appear uncomfortable as they are forced to wear name badges in a grotesque mockery of networking events – the vignette resembling the works of visual artist Sandra Hill, whose ‘Homemaker’ series provides a statement on displacement and loss of culture. The artistic nature of the play continues with Henry staring at her hands, bathed in red light, as she scrubs in the ancestral water hole. Yorkshire, bursting forth from that same water hole, drenching the stage as he takes the long march back; the frieze along the back wall blooming to life as all is restored.
Hecate is, simply put, the most important play to come out of our region to date. To say it is perfect would be an understatement. This is a work full of love – love for each other, love for language, love for land, and love for theatre. The story is universal, yet so exceptionally fitting for the Noongar language – a language of storytelling. Its themes of violence, ambition, love, honour, and restoration resonate with the Noongar experience. It’s a story about dispossession, giving back to the land, and being of it. This is so much more than a play – it’s an emotional, spiritual experience. Every element of this work is next-level, Yirra Yaakin have raised an already high bar for themselves, and I have a feeling that the only way is up.
WHEN: 6th – 16th February 2020 | Tue – Fri 7.30pm | Sat 8 Feb 2pm | Sat 15 Feb 2pm & 7.30pm | Sun 6pm
WHERE: Subiaco Arts Centre | SUBIACO
INFO: Tickets $25 – $69 | Duration 90 mins | Suitability PG | Performed in Noongar language | Latecomers not admitted | Haze and Smoke | Post show Q & A Tues 11th Feb | Audio description performance Wed 12th Feb |PERTH FESTIVAL
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