BWW REVIEW: Full of Fabulous Joy With An Important Message That Still Remains Relevant BRAN NUE DAE Starts Its Australian Tour In Sydney.
Friday 17th January 2020, 7:30pm, Riverside Theatre
The Opera Conference's new production of Jimmy Chi (Book, Music and Lyrics) and Kuckles' (Music and Lyrics) absurd road trip story of friendship, family and forgiveness, BRAN NUE DAE, is absolute joy while still holding important messages for both Australia's relationship with the Indigenous community and humanity in general. 30 years after the award winning first Australian Aboriginal musical BRAN NUE DAE premiered as part of the 1990 Festival of Perth, it returns to the stage and is set to tour the country.
BRAN NUE DAE, which was also turned into a feature film in 2009, tells the semi-autobiographical story of an Aboriginal teenager Willie (Marcus Corowa) from the Kimberly region coastal town of Broome. The awkward and innocent boy finds himself expelled from the church run Rossmoyne Pallottine Aboriginal Hostel where he was supposed to be attending school in Perth. Dejected and 1,681 km away from home, he eventually finds the old drover, a man who he believes is a distant relative, Uncle Tadpole (Ernie Dingo) who contrives to have two hippies, the German backpacker 'Slippery' (Callan Purcell) and stoner 'Marijuana Annie' (Danielle Sibosado on opening night, normally Tuuli Narkle) drive them north in their Kombi wagon. Along the way Willie learns about life, secrets are unearthed, and connections formed whilst echoes of the past repeat themselves. While some of the plot lines seem like pure fantasy, there is truth in the work that more Australians should be aware of. The treatment of first nations people that considered them as second and that they would only be accepted if they played by the white man's rules of society and followed their religion is captured in the up-beat Acceptable Coon and Nothing I Would Rather Be while the removal of children that authorities felt could pass as white shows how recently families were separated.
Set and costume designer Mark Thompson draws on Broome's famous Sun Picture Gardens', the worlds oldest picture gardens still in operation, corrugated iron construction to present a space that is firmly connected to Broome while also utilizing the movie screen for projections of archive and landscape images. The religious connections throughout are represented by the 'screen' opening to a representation of churches and other scenes are expressed with the simple use of bentwood chairs and the sling style folding chairs from the picture gardens. The costumes capture the essence of the era, from bright polyester prints for the Broome residents, school shorts and long socks for the schoolboys, and tie-dyed cheesecloth and Indian beading for the hippies.
Jimmy Chi and Kuckles' music, which ranges from country, rock, religious and more traditional musical theatre, is wonderfully supported by the band which is situated on stage, led by musical directors Michael Mavromatis and Patrick Bin Amat. The predominantly upbeat music draws the audience in but packs its punch in the form of the lyrics which hold the truths of Chi and Kuckles' feelings about white Australia's attitude to the Indigenous population.
As Willie, Marcus Corowa presents a wonderful expression of the initially innocent good boy with wide eyed interest at new things and feeble terror and dejection at being punished and sent out into the streets of Perth. His vocals are glorious and clear and he ensures that the audience easily connects to the character. Ernie Dingo is brilliant as he reprises the role of Uncle Tadpole, a role he originated and portrayed in the film. He exudes a cheekiness that hides deeper secrets and trauma. His vocals have a warmth and velvety tone with a touch of gruffness in-keeping with Uncle Tadpole's admission that he likes a drink or two.
Andrew Moran brings a rich operatic baritone to the work as Father Benedictus, the comical German priest who the schoolboys see as a symbol of excess and greed as they regularly go hungry at the boarding house. Newcomer Teresa Moore presents a shy and insecure Rosie while having strong vocals to lead the local pub's country band. Callan Purcell adds to the comedy of the story with his caricature of a German tourist and Danielle Sibosado, who performed the role of Marijuana Annie on opening night, gave the high hippie an exaggerated enthusiasm in keeping with someone not in full control of their senses. The ensemble presents a lively support to the story with Tara Gower's choreography drawing elements from traditional storytelling dance and contemporary styles.
BRAN NUE DAE is presented with passion and joy and it is clear that the company are enjoying being able to bring this work back to the stage. This feel good production is well worth catching
Photos: Prudence Upton