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BWW Review: JULIA at Studio Underground

Julia Gillard's iconic speech is reimagined into a hard hitting, multi faceted performance.

BWW Review: JULIA at Studio Underground

"Not now, not ever." The iconic speech by Julia Gillard that has become embedded in the Australian psyche is nearing its ten-year anniversary. It has evolved from a clap-back to then opposition leader Tony Abbott into a rallying cry for equality, and a symbol of not only the one man it was directed at by one woman, but the struggles far too many women face because of sexism and misogyny still rife in society. Sally Richardson and Natalie Allen combined to create JULIA, a brilliant solo piece that conveys not only Gillard's experience, but the experience of many women.

The performance begins with a conversation with not only the creatives behind the project, but other leading female figures. The conversation allows perspective on the thoughts and ideas that went into creating the project and how it resonates with the experiences of women everywhere. It was an excellent way to frame the whole performance, as many people are familiar with the Julia Gillard story, but many may not see the parallels that are so common in society. All the women involved with the conversation had different stories to tell, and yet there was a jarring sense of similarity between all of them. The conversation was not only a fascinating insight into the creative process behind JULIA, but the motivations behind it.

BWW Review: JULIA at Studio Underground

The set for JULIA was designed by Helen Fitzgerald, and begins somewhat bare, with only a small table and a chair. The audience sits on all four sides of the stage, so Allen's performance is seen and critiqued from every angle, a metaphor for Gillard's Prime Ministership and indeed the experience of many women in positions of power. The performance loosely follows a timeline of Gillard's past, present and future, and Allen begins as a confident character ready to take her place but is soon enveloped by the constant criticisms levelled at her. The soundtrack (designed and composed by Joe Lui, Annika Moses and Rachael Dease) is littered with quotes from press and other politicians, and at several points the constant criticism appears to take its toll. Allen never fully lets it get to her, though, and Gillard's real audio clips in the soundtrack echo this, regardless of what stage of her career she was at.

BWW Review: JULIA at Studio Underground Natalie Allen's performance in JULIA is superb. Her dancing never misses its mark and she exhibits perfect control throughout. Whilst technically perfect as a dancer, she also plays the roll throughout, and it is clear at each point of the piece by her movements what is being conveyed. Indeed, bruises on Allen's body that are no doubt an occupational hazard (and generally covered up in performance) are displayed proudly as marks of the journey her character has taken. Credit must also go to the direction from Sally Richardson, Nicole Marrington's costume designing, and Joe Lui's lighting. The combination of all aspects bring the audience deep into the journey and transformation, even when Allen's back is to that part of the audience. The effects are obvious but never over the top, and the audience is clear at each part of the piece what the feeling is. At times, this meant the performance was raw and uncomfortable- there are times when the audience audibly gasps or visibly winces with what Allen subjects herself to- however all this combined to illustrate what inherent sexism can do. JULIA is unapologetically immersive in the emlotional portrayal of misogyny in modern Australia.

The performance finishes with Allen in a pose of strength and power, fist in the air. The journey shown in the performance is not marked as complete, with the audience left somewhat to continue the work done. Due to the vivid depiction through the sights and sounds in JULIA, there is little hard doubt that much needs to be done. JULIA is hard hitting and brutally honest in what it gives to the audience and is all the better for it.

JULIA is at Studio Underground (at the WA State Theatre) until May 29. Tickets through the Perth Theatre Trust.

Photo credit- JLG Photographics

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