REVIEW: Beautiful One Day | Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney
Beautiful One Day, like other work from Version 1.0, as my perspicacious companion observed, almost requires a whole new set of criteria and tools for reviewing theatre, given its docudramatic style reinvents the medium so comprehensively. It’s a wonder we didn’t think of it before. And a pity, since it has as much to offer educationally as theatrically. Version 1.0 demonstrates, time and again, that contemporary issues can be discussed and dealt with in a very direct way and prove riveting, as well as deeply affecting.
Version 1.0 has the benefit of two co-production partners for Beautiful One Day, in Belvoir and Ilbijerri. Under ordinary circumstances, this might be a recipe for clashes of visions, egos and personalities, yet this tripartite model has generated something which might be construed to resemble a socialist ideal, brought to life through theatre practice, for there’s no writer and no director. BOD is living proof that consultation, collaboration and mutual respect can really work. It’s a radically leftist concept, but maybe the rest of us should try it sometime.
I haven’t been to Palm Island, but everything I’ve seen, heard or imagined recommends it as an idyllic tropical paradise. Perhaps the nearest thing I have to compare it with are the Tiwi Islands, which I’ve visited a number of times. But while, to the best of my knowledge, whitefellas have substantially left the Tiwi Islanders to their own devices until such time as they wanted to profit from their distinctive culture, our approach to Palms hasn’t been nearly so benign. (In the Tiwi neck of the woods, it’s hard to forget a telling story of ignorance and prejudice that occurred very early on February 19, 1942; the day the Japanese bombed Darwin to devastation. The head of the mission up there had radioed Darwin to say the natives had become restless, claiming to have spotted Japanese planes flying in the direction of the mainland. The authorities in Darwin, however, laughed off the silly blackfellas estimations. About an hour later, men were running from showers, starkers, to man anti-aircraft guns.)
We’ve, regrettably, done more than merely ignore, or overlook, Palms. We’ve been hands on. Particularly in November, 2004, when an Aboriginal man died in custody. But in this case, it wasn’t quite so easy to sweep under the carpet. Palm Islanders are a proud and defiant people. They didn’t take this event lying down. They formed a resistance and protested for a week. Police characterised this as a riot. Well, they would. History shows how quickly, tightly and effectively ranks close around an accused officer. Blood, the colour red, is thicker than water. And the colour blue is thicker still.
Beautiful One Day has this convulsive, seminal event at its heart, but uses it to paint a much broader, contextualised picture of Palms and, to some extent, Aboriginal Australia at large. In a sense, Palms might be seen as a microcosmic example, a laboratory if you will, of what can happen when a people, a culture, a society, a civilisation, is invaded and overrun by another. As such, it becomes emblematic of European-Australian history and the afflictions it has brought.
There are many contributors to BOD and each and every one has brought something worthwhile and special to the production. Devisor and audiovisual designer Sean Bacon provided a backdrop of sometimes talking, sometimes silent heads: Palm people showing themselves to be soberingly wise, thankful (and for what?!), gracious and generous. A man who’d clearly suffered throat cancer (despite the discomfort, inconvenience and ignominy of having to communicate via a device attached to a laryngeal catheter, the fact he’d not a cent to his name and that he’d been an alcoholic) counted his blessings and told us how much better off he was than so many others. As he recognised, he could go and catch a feed anytime and, since not many people visit the island, it remains a sanctuary for the soul. Similarly, a woman told us she thanked God for the late Cameron Doomadgee (otherwise known as Mulrunji), for all the people of PI, all Aboriginal people and all Australians.
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