By Geoffrey Narkle and David Milroy
Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company
Directed Kyle J Morrison
Set and costume Designer India Mehta
Music and sound designer Clint Bracknell
Lighting designer Jenny Vila
Performed by Clarence Ryan, Karla Hart, Maitland Schnaars and Benj D’Addario
State Theatre Centre Courtyard
Until October 4
“Holda! Holda! Holda! There’s going to be a fight in this house!”
The call of the sideshow alley boxing tent barker rings through King Hit, the story of Geoffrey Narkle (Clarence Ryan) and the life of Noongar families through the ’50s and ’60s in WA.
Narkle wrote his story with the playwright, David Milroy, and the Yirra Yaakin theatre company premiered it in 1997. As a document of Aboriginal theatre, and the social history of Aboriginal people in this state, King Hit has an enduring value that more than merits this revival.
In its own right, as theatre for the here and now, it is an unqualified success.
First and foremost, King Hit is a powerful story told simply and clearly. Its director, Kyle Morrison, wisely and carefully guards those virtues.
Geoffrey Narkle grows up on the Clayton Road Reserve outside Narrogin with his dad, Largy (Maitland Schnaars), mum, Bella (Karla Hart), and three younger sisters. It’s a tough life, infected by constant casual racism, but the parents are loving, and the kids healthy, bright and mischievous.
Unusually for those times, Largy has even managed to acquire citizenship, giving him and his family relief from some of the more odious restrictions on Aboriginal people.
But it gives the family no protection from the Native Welfare Tribunal; while Largy and Bella are away for a funeral, the authorities forcibly commit their children to the Wandering Mission, 70km away.
Geoffrey will only ever see his father once more; his mother only after many years of angry estrangement.
His life, in Wandering and at the Palatine Training Centre in Perth, and years fighting as the “Barker Bulldog” in the boxing troupe of George Stewart (Benj D’Addario), is a sad story, though shot through with great courage and sudden humour.
That Geoffrey could maintain his essential sweetness, despite his anger, through the punishments, emotional and often physical, that were visited on him reveals the fine man, husband, father, pastor, community leader and artist he was to become.
Clarence Ryan gives a wonderful performance; striking and charismatic, he convincingly captures Geoffrey’s tenderness, and the knot of fire within him.
Schnaars is an unfussy, idiosyncratic actor who fits the trusting, stoic Largy and the tent champ Kid Dynamite like a glove; Hart is motherly and sassy in turn; and D’Addario finds variety and authenticity in his portrayal of the various white authority figures that plague the young Narkle.
King Hit may never have enjoyed the production assets Yirra Yaakin brings to bear in this production. The set, designed by India Mehta and housed in a tent, is excellent, Jenny Vila lights it skilfully and unobtrusively, and fight director Andy Fraser gives the stoushes, in and out of the ring, a real momentum and not a little humour.
Clint Bracknell’s terrific music and sound design, featuring arrangements of, mainly, Normie Rowe hits with a little Hendrix and Lionel Rose’s “Thank You”, propels the story through the course of its decade with the surety and power that mark everything in this important production.
An edited version of this review appeared in The West Australian 22.9.14