Friday, February 28, 2020

Perth Festival: I’m a Phoenix, Bitch

Bryony Kimmings
STC Studio
Feb 26 – Mar 1, 2020
Late in I’m a Phoenix, Bitch, its writer and performer Bryony Kimmings clambers up a 4m-high structure representing a steep hill to place a model of an old cottage on its summit.
Such was the commitment and power of her performance, such were the dangers she faced down to tell her story, and such was the shock her telling it had caused the audience (I’m absolutely confident I speak for everyone in it) that if she had fallen headlong down it, cracking her skull against its side, and lay, crumpled and shuddering, on the floor, we may not have rushed immediately to her aid for fear we would be interrupting her performance.
In another scene, Kimmings stands behind a scrim in a glade and begins digging. In a wondrous projected animation (by Will Duke), her excavation becomes a plunge through the earth and down into that cottage, which burst into flames around her, threatening to consume her until rising waters extinguished them, and drowned her.
We have just been taken inside a nightmare. Live on stage.
The nightmare Kimmings takes us into began soon after her last visit to Perth, in early 2015, where her Sex Idiot was the sensation of that year’s Fringe. She also performed a show, Fake It till you Make It, with her then partner, Tim Grayburn, who suffers from suicidal depression. It was scary, brave and warm – unusual theatre (Tim has no acting experience or particular aptitude for it), but humane and memorable.
By August that year, Kimmings was visibly pregnant as she and Tim performed Fake It in the UK. And that’s pretty much where Phoenix begins.
They rent an old cottage in Oxfordshire, on the banks of an innocent-looking little stream that, the estate agent warns them, can flood and cut the cottage off for weeks. But they’re in love, there’s a baby coming, Kimmings can get on with her writing if they’re stranded, so it’s all going to be just fine.
Little Frank is born in November 2015. Suddenly, Kimmings finds herself in the maw of a cataclysm. The baby is diagnosed with West syndrome, a rare, severe form of infantile epilepsy with pitiable symptoms, little response to treatment and an extremely poor prognosis. Tim and Kimmings’ relationship collapses under the strain, she suffers acute postnatal depression.
Kimmings is terrified, devastated, alone. But she is physically strong, crazy-brave and resilient. She’s too emotionally receptive not to be taken by the flood, but too robust and courageous to drown in it.
She is also an exemplary artist. So, by late 2018, when she is finally able, ready and willing to do it, Kimmings the artist brought Bryony the person to the stage; the result is as devastating a theatre work as I can recall.
Much of it is due to Kimmings’ natural inclination to savage comedy and her innate theatricality. The opening scenes are superbly devised sketches of gender role playing, the acquiescent female, the judgmental male, the jungle line behind the make-up and mascara, the aprons and window boxes, the round hole into which a round peg like Kimmings is both drawn and abhors.
It’s Sex Idiot redux, and we’re up for its parry and thrust, its laughter and spark.
But nothing prepares us for Kimmings’ descent, and she spares herself, or us, nothing down there. Early, when she tells us that we’re safe and everything’s okay, they aren’t empty words, and she’s not fishing for compliments. She’s aware enough of what she’s about to do, and we’re about to see, that she needs to reassure us – and, I suspect, herself.
The technical achievement and stagecraft of the show are remarkable. Its director, Kirsty Housley, whose work on Tao of Glass upstairs in the Heath Ledger Theatre is also inspiring, is a great gift to this festival. Art director David Curtis-Ring, composer Tom Parkinson and the design team all work wonders. And Kimmings, who is clearly spent at show’s end, is just amazing.
Many people in the audience took their time leaving their seats (Kimmings gave us permission to stay if we needed to). Outside the theatre I hugged someone I know who’d seen the show the night before. My wife hugged me when I got home. The dog jumped on the bed and stayed close.
We are safe. It’s okay.
And though we have no right to know the pain and grief and terror that Bryony went through in 2016, I’m eternally grateful to Kimmings for having the strength and daring to share it with us.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Perth Festival: Tao of Glass

Philip Glass and Phelim McDermott
Heath Ledger Theatre
Feb 19 – 23, 2020

It doesn’t take long for any trepidation the juxtaposition of the word Tao and the name (Philip) Glass might cause to dissipate.
It happens as soon as a late-coming, dishevelled, lost-looking, middle-aged bloke gives up looking for his seat in the Heath Ledger Theatre, shambles onto the stage and starts chatting to us.
He’s Phelim McDermott, and he’s one of those slightly cockeyed, askew English coves we’ve come to be very comfortable with – a Bill Oddie meets Alan Davies meets one of the scruffier Doctor Whos.
Nothing he says or does over the next couple of hours takes us out of the comfort zone he creates, and that allows him and his fellow performers –the puppeteers David Emmings, Janet Eluk and Rachel Leonard, the clarinettist Jack McNeill, the violinist Rahkhi Singh, the pianist Katherine Tinker and the percussionist Chris Vatalaro, as well as Philip Glass himself, constantly heard and felt, even though he’s not there in person – to go to some exotic interior places and have some singular theatrical adventures.
It’s all because McDermott is an engaging, energetic and convincing storyteller, and that, despite its arcanities and exotica, Tao of Glass possesses a perfectly straightforward narrative.
You never lose your way in it; and when you’re not lost, it’s amazing what you can find.
McDermott tells the story of the winding path that led him and Glass to the work we see on stage. It starts with the young Phelim at the Royal Exchange Theatre in his hometown, Manchester, the wonder of seeing Laurence Olivier and the other greats of the British stage firing his ambition to make theatre himself.
(He has done, through a distinguished career in theatre and opera – including three of Glass’s own, Satyagraha, The Perfect American and Akhanaten).
Their collaboration on Tao of Glass is structured around thirteen Glass pieces, most written for the play, augmented by a couple of signature pieces from his seminal 1982 chamber music work, Glassworks. McDermott has created tableaux for each, some narrative, some philosophical, some purely sensory.
Through them we learn of their attempt to recruit the celebrated children’s author Maurice Sendak in a staging of his The Night Kitchen. Sendak is gruffly enthusiastic, “We gotta do this fucking thing; we gotta do this thing before I croak!” But he does, before it can be got up – though not before giving Tao of Glass the inspiration for one rhapsodic highlight of the show, with pieces of an old piano, McDermott’s young son Ridley, shadow puppets and streams of manuscript (words? music?) hurtling above the revolving stage to Glass’s much-loved Opening.
There are many others as McDermott and Glass explore diverse philosophical texts (Lao Tsu’s I Ching, the Sanskrit Rigvida) and theories of consciousness (deep democracy), or, from a piling cumulonimbus cloud of paper, a blizzard of music, words and forms, ostensibly just for the sheer beauty of the thing but, lying beneath, a very subtle message that you can get swept up – in the senses, by information, by life – but you can get tied up in knots too.
All these strands coalesce in an audacious catharsis; a long, long scene (I’m guessing ten minutes maybe not quite that long) where McDermott imagines himself in a coma and Glass tries to reach him with music.
There’s hardly a rule of theatre it doesn’t break, but such is the clarity and skill of both thought and method in its staging (Kirsty Housley’s direction is always sure and often inspired), it rolls smoothly over those conventions and our doubts.
And that is true of this whole, intriguing and beguiling work.   


Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Perth Festival: Kabarett Haus

Perth Concert Hall
21-23 February 2020
For three nights during the Perth festival the austere Perth Concert Hall became an enormous (albeit mirror-less) spiegeltent as three of the biggest stars of Cabaret Nuevo strutted their very considerable stuff to adoring sold-out crowds.
Fabulous concept - but how did they go, huh?   

Meow Meow
Here’s a doozy of a question: “Who is the real Divine Miss MM?”
Is she the aggrieved, do-it-herself diva of her entrance sans flowers thrown from the audience, the assiduous trawler through the back catalogue of chanson réaliste and Weimar cabaret, the claws-barely-sheathed/bits-barely-contained mistress of human bondage with her obediently stroking boys?
Or is she the fragile, exposed girl in her slip, caught in the light of a torch she’s holding herself?
Of course she’s none of them (she’s actually the prodigiously talented WAAPA and Melbourne University law, fine arts and language graduate Melissa Madden Gray) and also all of them.
She’s a creation, like Barry Humphries’ Edna or Bette Midler’s Divine Miss Only One M, and the purpose of everything she does is to deconstruct the persona of the diva and the art and craft of cabaret.
Oh, and sure, Gray’s a dynamite performer, sexy as all get-out, crafty and learned, versatile and able to wring laughs, gasps and tears from the stoniest of audiences.
But, just maybe, she’s a little stuck in her creation. She’s inventive, makes great choices with her collaborators (Iain Grandage, who conducts WASO with humour and accuracy, Thomas M Lauderdale who is a peerless accompanist) and friends (two of whom, Amanda Palmer and Rufus Wainwright she wrangled into her Kabarett Haus series for the Perth Festival.
The trouble is, we’ve seen it all before.
That’s not a deal-breaker, but put the first time I saw her, in a fringe spiegeltent in 2012, alongside this time, in an arts festival concert hall eight years later, and not much in her manner, matter or method has evolved. It’s a truly great act, but it’s the same act, and that, to me at least, is a waste of her range, and the opportunities she has.
As I wrote the first time I reviewed her; “She's such a fine, emotionally intelligent singer, of her own songs and others', that one day it would be nice to see her throw away the lingerie and gagging and just do some tunes”.
Nothing’s changed.

Rufus Wainwright
Down Solo Wainwright
Rufus Wainwright has been famous since the instant of his birth (courtesy of his famous dad Louden’s Dilated to Meet You).
I’ve seen Rufus before, at his Judy Garland concert at the Hollywood Bowl in 2008, and then at his sombre 2010 Perth Festival performance where he was clearly deeply affected by the recent death of his mother, Kate McGarrigle.
The great news is how much his voice has matured in power and richness since those shows. In 2008 part of the fun was listening to him attempt material he admitted he wasn’t up to; in 2010 his vocal peculiarity (I described it, back then, as “a chainsaw wrapped in felt”) was a high hurdle to overcome.
His voice is still not my favourite instrument, but he’s grown and refined it as he has grown and refined, and it’s no longer an impediment to enjoyment of his outstanding material and stage presence.
Link here to my full review in Seesaw

Amanda Palmer
There will be no Intermission
(pic Nicole David)
 One of my tasks as a reviewer, unsurprisingly, is to let you know whether a show is worth the time and money you have to invest in it.
That means the hurdle for a four-hour forty-minute long solo show by an artist as confronting and iconoclastic as Amanda Palmer has to be set pretty fucking high.
The answer is complicated. If Ms Palmer is not your cup of tea, or you wander into her Perth Festival show unawares, a free ticket to a five-minute-long performance might be way too much. If, though you’re an Amandanista (like the 15,000-odd “patreons” who shell out an average, she says, of three bucks a month for her to do whatever she wants with) or someone who craves hard, sharp, take-no-prisoners performance, you’d probably be happy to sell your house and follow her everywhere.
There’s another complication. Some years back I saw Steve Earle in San Diego, and there was a shouting match in the audience between opposing sides of the issues he was raising. The main shout of the anti-Earles was “We came to hear you sing – not to hear your crappy commie politics”. You get the drift.
Now everyone in the Perth Concert Hall last Saturday night, I’m sure, was well prepared to hear Palmer’s opinions, but I suspect most would have thought she’d present them differently: “We came to hear you sing about your opinions – not to hear you talk about them”.
Look, it’s a fair point, and one I was forced to contemplate at the interval (there is one thankfully) after two hours and only five songs. I’m sure there were some waverers by then, wary of facing more of the same.
Whether it was what you came for or not, Palmer’s monologues, about abortion and miscarriage, friends, love, death, anger and redemption were to the point, skilfully structured and performed, passionate, often very funny, very often very sad. I’d written Hannah Gadsby in my notes long before Palmer acknowledged how inspired she’d been by the Australian humourist’s Nanette. 
And the songs, which came much more frequently after interval, were amazing. Her piano playing is orchestral, her voice operatic, her artistic stance phenomenal. She’s as spectacular a performing artist as rock has.
And her life story – or the part of it she wants to tell us about in this show, is worth telling, though it’s painful, and sad, and sometimes horrifying. It’s peopled with good folks and bad, the wise and the stupid, those who cared for her and those that didn’t give a rat’s arse.
A couple of things: the two Auslan interpreters (Christy Filipich and Danielle Pritchard) who worked in tandem throughout the show were OUTSTANDING! They’d obviously put huge work into their roles, often anticipating Palmer’s words before she spoke or sang them, and richly deserved the respect Palmer gave them, and the ovation from the audience at the bows.
And it's interesting that nearly all the shows that worked for me best in both festivals were autobiographical; David Colvin’s Thunderstruck and Jemma Kahn’s In bocca al lupo at Fringe World, Palmer and Phelim McDermott’s Tao of Glass at the Perth Festival.
Must be something in that.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Perth Festival: Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds ★★½

Paul Kelly, James Ledger, Alice Keath and Seraphim Trio
Perth Concert Hall
15 Feb, 2020

The cumulative effect of things being awry at the performance of James Ledger and Paul Kelly’s Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds made for a frustrating, disappointing evening.
The recording of the same name won the 2019 ARIA for best classical album, and the snatches of it I’d heard on ABC Classic FM certainly augured well for its live performance.
Kelly has been a significant rock songwriter and musician for decades and has maintained both his quality and his popularity  – as evidenced by the capacity crowd at the Perth Concert Hall – so expectations understandably ran high.
The concept of the piece, too, was promising: a baker’s dozen of songs and instrumental pieces inspired by and featuring the work of famous and lesser-known poets on the subject of birds.
So the wings were all there, but, sadly, it just didn’t fly.
There were missed opportunities in the presentation of the material (I’ll get to them later), but the main culprits were technical and staging-related.
For some reason, the sound quality was below par. Kelly’s vocals, so obviously the central factor in appreciation of the material, was other-roomly throughout, a deadly problem for a singer whose voice, while very well suited to his own material, doesn’t have much cut or penetration.
The instrumental mix, too, was less than adequate. Anna Goldsworthy’s piano was over-amplified, badly affecting the sound balance, a problem exacerbated by co-composer James Ledger’s reticent approach to his guitar playing. Ledger is an estimable composer and musician, and watching him approach his instrument with such apparent caution was mystifying and painful.
No such problems with cellist Tim Nankervis, because it was all but impossible to watch him at all, hidden as he was behind a gigantic music stand that obscured his face and gave the audience only peek-a-boo glimpses of his playing. Nankervis and his megastand also obscured our view of Goldsworthy.
At least Kelly, violinist Helen Ayres and multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Alice Keith were clearly visible, but the damage was done.
The overall impression was of a lack of care in staging and production, and a kind of introspection in performance that was a slight on its audience. I’m sure that wasn’t the intention, but it was hard not to feel it.
Though poems and songs are two different beasts, and great poets are often lousy songwriters and vice versa, there’s no denying the quality of the material enlisted for this project. When it was fit for purpose, as in Thomas Hardy’s The Darkling Thrush, Glen Harwood’s Barn Owl and, especially, Emily Dickinson’s tiny, gorgeous “Hope” is the Thing with Feathers and Denis Glover’s The Magpies, the concert rose above its problems.
A.D. Hope’s The Death of the Bird is no song, but it’s a powerful statement of mortality and the great circle of life, and Miroslav Holub’s pitch-black, hilariously framed The Fly (translated here by George Theiner) is a historical novel in 33 short lines you should make it your business to investigate.
These works, and some others, made me wonder whether the structure of the show might benefit from having the poems recited – perhaps over some light musical prelude – before they are performed as songs. Apart from making the work clearer to the audience, it might often free the compositions up to do more than rigidly follow the poems as written, making them more amenable to the rhythm of the music.
Not that Kelly et al are likely to be disposed to take advice from a grumpy old bastard like me

Monday, February 17, 2020

Perth Festival: Ancient Voices ★★★★½

The Gesualdo Six, The Giovanni Consort, Voyces and William Barton
Winthrop Hall
14 Feb, 2020

When Marin Mersenne, the father of acoustics, observed the similarity between the popular instrument of the 17th century, the viola de gamba, and les voix humaines, the comparison implicitly recognised that the human voice was the greatest of all musical instruments.
No other has its combination of range and tonal subtlety; no other has its emotional force. No other has tongues to speak.
All those qualities were in full display in UWA’s Winthrop Hall when the visiting Gesualdo Six joined two Perth choirs and the distinguished Kalkadunga performer William Barton in a concert of sublime musicianship and generosity.
The Six, countertenor Guy Williams, tenors Joseph Wicks and Josh Cooter, baritone Michael Craddock, bass Samuel Mitchell and bass and leader Owain Park performed alone an exemplary repertoire of ancient choral pieces from Thomas Tallis, William Byrd and Nicholas Gombert, with more recent work by Francis Poulenc and Max Reger, that would have left any lovers of precise harmony and meditative musicology more than satisfied.
They also gave impressive readings of contemporary work, by Cheryl Francies-Hoad, the Canadian composer Gerda Blok-Wilson, and, in an early highlight of the concert, David Bednall’s beautifully-formed telling of the “fishers of men” story, Put out into the deep.
But it was the introduction of our own choirs, The Giovanni Consort and Voyces that extended the performance’s opportunities and took it to new levels of excitement.
The choirs showed they could go toe-to-toe with international ensembles, and there was considerable delighted pride evident in the audience at the quality of their work.
The combined choirs excelled in some often very technically demanding ensemble work, beginning with interesting pieces by Alison Wills where the voices created the sound of wind in the wires as a storm gathered. It continued with a work by the Gesualdo Six's own Owain Park, and Benjamin Britten’s A Hymn to the Virgin
A highlight was a Perth Festival commission, the intricate, almost subliminal, 40-part Ode to Ode by the WA composer Cara Zydor Fesjian – the Gesualdo Six plan to include in their repertoire.
And the combined choirs featured in the evening’s two highest points.
The first was a triumphant Tallis’s Spem in allium, the first time the Gesualdo Six had attempted perhaps the greatest achievement of English vocal music.
And towering over all that had come before was an electrifying performance of William Barton’s Kalkadunga Yurdu, with the combined choirs, conducted by Hugh Lydon, reaching enormous heights with Barton’s singing and didgeridoo playing.
The performance was introduced by choir members singing in overtone, the vocal technique that is the basis of didgeridoo playing. Barton transfixed the audience from the instant his disembodied voice was first heard before he entered the hall to the pulsating climax of the piece with the choirs in full voice behind him.
For me this moment brought together the elements of an ecstatic week, as Perth Festival director Iain Grandage stood collaboration, indigenous culture and performance front and centre in the spotlight.
I have seen and heard many unforgettable things in the grand old Winthrop Hall, right back to the Indian maestros Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan in 1972, but I have never seen its audience erupt like it did at the conclusion of Barton’s piece.

The pestilence has brought us few pleasures, but one is the decision of ABC Classic FM to extend the life of many of their recorded concerts, including this one. Link here for the whole, exquisite experience!

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Perth Festival: Black Ties ★★★½

by John Harvey and Tainui Tukiwaho
Ilbijerri Theatre Company and Te Rehia Theatre
STC Studio
Feb 13 - 16

It doesn’t take long to get the idea. The opening tableau of Black Ties is a series of gorgeous panoramic bush sunrises, with a chorus of native birds singing along to Edvard Grieg’s Morning Mood.

Then we meet the loving couple at the centre of the play, handsome Kane Baker (Mark Coles Smith) and blushing Hera Tapuwera (Tuakoi Ohia).

No need to fasten our seatbelts. We are not in for a bumpy ride tonight.

Sure, the path to wedded bliss has the odd thorn sprinkled among the roses that strew it, but the happily ever afters aren’t likely to be ultimately denied our young lovers.

Chief among the thorny questions that provide most of the play’s humour and all of its tension is obvious; what will two proud families, one Aboriginal, one Maori, going to make of this union of star-crossed lovers? Will the kids be able to steer through to safe waters, or will their families go all Capulet and Montague on them? Who will be the wise heads, and who will be the hot ones?
Read my complete review in Seesaw

Perth Festival: Anthem

by Andrew Bovell, Patricia Cornelius, Melissa Reeves, Christos Tsiolkas and Irine Vela
Directed by Susie Dee
Heath Ledger Theatre
Feb 12-16

The prominent writers Andrew Bovell, Patricia Cornelius, Melissa Reeves, Christos Tsiolkas, working with composer Irine Vela,
created Who’s Afraid of the Working Class for the now-defunct Melbourne Worker’s Theatre 23 years ago. That play has become an enduring icon of political theatre in Australia, and Anthem has revisited many of its themes and restated many of its messages. It's a brilliantly executed undertaking, with one major, bewildering flaw.
Link here to my full review in Seesaw

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Perth Festival: Buŋgul ★★★★

pic: Toni Wilkinson
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupiŋu, Erkki Veltheim and Michael Hohnen
Skinnyfish Music and Perth Festival
Directed by Don Wininba Ganambarr and Nigel Jamieson
Perth Concert Hall
7 - 9 Feb, 2020

Gurrumul Yunipiŋu, the blind, clear-sighted songwriter and musician with an unforgettable voice, died in 2017, leaving behind a saddened nation.
He left us a final gift, an album of songs that combined his own musical heritage and that of the western world, Djarimirri (Child of the Rainbow).
His kinsmen from the Yolŋu country of East Arnhem Land, and his collaborators on the album, the producer Michael Hohnen and the musical director Erkki Velthiem, have brought that album to the stage in an ecstatic union of music, dance, setting, technological wizardry and imagery called Buŋgul, and the result is simply a revelation.
The live performance, directed by Don Wininba Ganambarr and Nigel Jamieson and delivered by traditional voices and instruments and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra under Velthiem’s baton, seamlessly dovetailed with Yunipiŋu’s recorded vocals, reveals the music's full beauty and power.
Add to that some extraordinary visuals, the work of cinematographer Paul Shakeshaft and artists of Yolŋu country, designed by Mic Gruchy and played over Jack Nash’s landscape of a set, all lit by the magnificent illuminations of Mark Howett and you have an overwhelming environment for the music, and the dancers of the Yolŋu.
The performance begins with Bäru, the Wagnarian songline of the crocodile, with the dancers lying in a circle of sand, being painted for ceremony around a smoking mound that, seen from above in a projected image, is sharply reminiscent of JMW Turner’s explosive suns.
The live dance is mirrored in Shakeshaft’s films of the same dancers in Country, and the vivid colours and lushness of bush and seas makes their deep attachment to it axiomatic.
The music continues, reaching phenomenal heights in tracks like the pulsating title track, with its passages of exuberant tintinnabulation (John Adams comes to mind) and the glorious glissando of Gapu (Tuna Swimming), Shakeshaft’s camera skimming along the surface of the water, sometimes diving beneath, sometimes leaping above.
In my mind’s eye I could see Peter Gabriel with these songs and this setting. It was a perfect fit.  
The sun sets, red and glowing, in Djäpana. Octopuses glide through the water, the sails of the traders from Sulawesi appear on the horizon as they have for half a millennia, all caught in sights and sounds and the rhythm of the dance.
Finally, dark clouds gather in Wulminda, and the image of them pulls slowly back to reveal the face of Gurrumul in Guy Maestri’s Archibald Award-winning portrait, and his sightless eyes miss nothing.
If I have a reservation about Buŋgul, it’s simply that it has an embarrassment of riches. There’s occasionally a redundancy of sensation, in particular between the live and filmed dancers, which robbed a little from each, especially as these traditional dances are full of nuance and deep meaning rather than spectacle and variety.
Surround that with the wonderful imagery, the lighting, the orchestra, and you often didn’t quite know where to look.
But if that’s its problem, all but the greatest productions would love to have it.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Perth Festival: Hecate ★★★★

Adapted and translated from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth
by Kylie Bracknell and Dr Clint Bracknell
Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company
in association with Bell Shakespeare
Directed by Kylie Bracknell
Set and costume designer Zoë Atkinson
Lighting designer Mark Howett
Composer, musical director and sound designer Dr Clint Bracknell
Dramaturg Kate Mulvany
Subiaco Arts Centre until 16 Feb

One fell swoop (pic Dana Weeks)

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Perhaps the greatest passage in all of Shakespeare, ‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow’ is the radioactive core burning in the heart of the nuclear reaction that is Macbeth.
I reproduce it in full for the sheer marvel of its genius: ‘To the last syllable of recorded time’, with its intimations of galaxies and eternities in seven words, never fails to astound me.
Leave aside its bleak part in the rise and downfall of the homicidal king, its withering insight into his character and psychology, or the opportunities (and histrionic perils) it gives to the actor performing it, these ten lines stand as one of the most powerful and formative achievements of the English language.
And it is language, more than plot, or character, or even performance, that makes Hecate, a skilfully reconstructed but essentially faithful retelling of Shakespeare’s tragedy entirely in the Noongar language of South-Western Australia, so remarkable.
Both these plays mark a critical moment in the histories of their respective languages. In Macbeth’s case, it comes at the apogee of the decade from 1597 to 1607 – from Henry IV to Antony and Cleopatra – when Shakespeare unleashed the full potential of the English language; in the case of Hecate, at the point where the ancient Noongar language rises back from near-obliteration to demonstrate its emotional power and continuing viability.
For this much credit is due to a band of senior Noongar people who kept their language alive (the Hecate programme notes that of the 30,000 people who identify as Noongar, only two per cent speak the language at home, although that number is rising).
In the context of this production, the grand endeavour of the former artistic director of Yirra Yaakin, Kyle Morrison, who, eight years ago, conceived the “Noongar Shakespeare project” that has already taken translations of the sonnets to the Globe Theatre in London, cannot be praised enough.
High among his greatest achievements is his willingness to gift the realisation of his dream on to others, to the director Kylie Bracknell, who, with her husband Clint, also adapted and translated Shakespeare’s text, and, finally (I understand), the role of Macbeth to the distinguished Noongar actor Maitland Schnaars.
Morrison’s reward, which he celebrated so exuberantly at the end of the opening night’s performance, was to see his work come to reality (and also, it should be noted, his own magnetic performance in a number of supporting roles in the production).
Now to the play (which, after all, is the thing).
One of the defining ideas of this interpretation of Macbeth is the elevation of Hecate to its title role. In the original, Hecate (in Greek mythology the Goddess of magic and witchcraft; in Shakespeare the sovereign of the ‘weird sisters’ who trigger Macbeth’s downfall) only appears very briefly – indeed there’s compelling technical evidence that Shakespeare may not have written the character, that may have been inserted later by another hand.
Here she (Della Rae Morrison) is the observer of all that befalls, a seer and a spirit protector of boodjar – the land, a comforter of the distressed.
Her witches are replaced by an ensemble of ‘mischief-makers’, played at one time or another by all the rest of the nine-member cast.
These changes by Bracknell and the dramaturg Kate Mulvany (my God, that woman must sleep no more!) give the narrative and staged action a fluidity and vigour in which Shakespeare’s original characters, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth (Bobbi Henry), Banquo (Rubeun Yorkshire) Macduff (Ian Wilkes) Malcolm (Mark Nannup) and Duncan (Trevor Ryan) live and die.
Their names are the only words in English – I lie, I think there’s one English phrase slipped mischievously into the script, like the single upside-down panel in an otherwise perfectly symmetrical Japanese temple frieze. 
And be prepared: there are no subtitles, and a plan I believe was once in place to provide a plot summary in English before each act was replaced by a synopsis in the programme. Bravo, I say!
Apart from those structural changes, the familiar storyline is told with little deviation from the original; Banquo’s ghastly appearance at Macbeth’s banquet is there, as are the murderers’ fell swoop on Macduff’s wife and pretty ones, the woods closing in on Macbeth and, in the end, Macduff’s revenge in a brutal fight to the death with hands shaped as daggers, superbly choreographed by Yorkshire and performed – danced really – by Schnaars and Wilkes.
The creative team for Hecate deliver outstanding results: Zoë Atkinson’s cascading set of rough panels, screens and abysses frames the action brilliantly, while lighting designer Mark Howett continues his triumphant Perth festival (his work on Buŋgul is simply amazing) with blood-red and ice-blue washes of dark colour across the set, faces and forms etched against the blackness behind.
I left Hecate with a selfish reservation. For many Noongar people, their language is in the process of rediscovery, and, unavoidably, its expression is a conscious effort that showed in sometimes-laboured delivery of the text.
After the show, though, in the wonderful gathering place created as an adjunct to the play in the Subiaco Arts Centre gardens (which, incidentally, I think of as my own boodjar, around which my children were born and schooled, my family lived worked and played), I listened to Bracknell and Morrison speak of their deep reverence for Shakespeare, of their love of their own language and the long challenge for it to return to that unconscious, natural fluency and eloquence it would once have had.
Hecate is one imperfect, sometimes halting, but courageous and ultimately triumphant step towards that goal, while we wait for a Noongar Shakespeare to emerge to unleash its full potential.