|Danielle Antaki, Mikayla Merks and Katie McAllister|
Maiden Voyage Theatre Company
Blue Room Theatre until June 20
Unlike my friend and colleague Nina Levy, whose review of Sally Davies and Anna Lindstedt’s Ugly Virgins is up on Seesaw Magazine (read here), I’ve never strapped wheels to my feet and attempted to roll around on them.
As a child, however, every Sunday afternoon I was transfixed by the Roller Game, where the transported (from the US), rebadged Australian (formerly LA) Thunderbirds, led by the immortal Ralphie Valladares and tough-as-nails women likeTerri Lynch and Ann Calvello nearly always beat off the challenge of their opponents, most notably the brutish, black-uniformed Texas Outlaws, building a substantial TV and live audience around ’60s Australia.
But the craze died, the audiences fell away, and some corporate shenanigans back in the US dealt it a death blow.
It’s spirit lives on, though, in amateur, almost entirely women’s, Roller Derby teams and leagues in Australia and around the world; played on a flat track rather than the banked track of the professional (often staged) Roller Game, it’s edged towards Olympic recognition while maintaining its punk, outlaw stance.
The Perth Roller Derby has three teams, The Mistresses of Mayhem, The Bloody Sundaes and The Apocalipstiks, whose colourful names are matched by the nom de geurres of their players.
It’s this little world, with its jammers and blockers, fierce tribalism, finesse and brutality, that Davies and Lindstedt have used to represent their story of rejection and acceptance, loneliness and companionship, camaraderie, betrayal, remorse and forgiveness.
It’s an apt, metaphoric, environment, and makes for a tightly framed, funny, sad and ultimately emotionally satisfying story.
Three experienced skaters, Mad Splatter (Katie McAllister) Nutcracker (Courtney Cavallaro) and Cinnamon Roller (Danielle Antaki) find themselves ostracized from the fictional Purple Minions, but are determined to get back into the game. They set up an ad hoc training venue, and are joined by an artistic roller-skater keen to try the derby who, tentatively, calls herself Large Gunderson (Amber Kitney), and a complete novice, Huntswoman (Mikayla Merks).
Each has their own reason for being there, each has setbacks and heartbreaks to deal with. Each has to overcome their own façade, just as much as those of the others, to connect.
These are universal human issues, and Davies and Lindstedt (who also co-direct) deal with them with a light touch, exploring them without allowing them to derail the narrative.
Their creative team, production designer Eilish Campbell, lighting designer Rhiannon Petersen and the sound designers/composers Alex and Yell (and how good to hear the soundtrack’s signature piece, Kate Bush’s skate-worthy Running Up That Hill played in full and loud) work effectively in the minimalist space.
They’ve also recruited the support of the dramaturg Alexa Taylor and directing mentor Emily Mclean, whose work contributes further polish to the text and it’s staging, as well as the skating trainer Wheels McCoy, who keeps things pretty much upright throughout.
The show is cast extremely well. The real life age range of skaters is well represented in the cast, and their performances are genuine, well pitched and persuasive.
And they can skate – if not exactly well, at least well enough!