At the start of the year, we invited a few Western Sydney residents to join UTP for a regular date to a cultural event. We have chosen five experiences for the group to attend throughout the year. We organise the ticket and transport and in return the reviewers will write a short review of their personal experience.
The first experience our 2200 Reviewers attended was our very own 2018 premiere of BLAK BOX. “BLAK BOX at Barangaroo Reserve in Sydney offered audiences a chance to embrace the First People’s concept of ‘Deep Listening’ in a purposely designed, state-of-the-art, surround-sound, place-based listening space.”
For the second experience our reviewers attended The Almighty Sometimes presented by Griffin Theatre. The Almighty Sometimes by Kendall Feaver is “An extraordinary work about mental health and the medication of children.”
The third experience our reviewers will attend is The Season presented by Riverside Parramatta. This is part of the national tour of the original acclaimed production, by Nathan Maynard, and is raucous and rowdy celebration of tradition and the bonds that unite us.
What did our reviewers think of The Almighty Sometimes?
“I think it was a good production overall, not for everyone due to the nature of the content but it would certainly leave you thinking about it long after the play ended.” Catherine
“This play is a reflection on societies inability to accept differences in character …” Khaled
The protagonists which consists of the mother figure, an abstract Father and a potential boyfriend for an overmedicated girl with a supposedly and unidentified mental illness on one side, then there is the other protagonist, the lifelong psychiatrist who gave the girl a huge amount of psychotic drugs, which inhibited her creative growth.
Coming out of age is hard for any teenager so we can imagine how difficult it was for both the mother with the protective instinct and the rebellious teenager with mental problems to cope when she refuses to take her drugs. In addition to the medical professional’s inability to confirm the effectiveness of these potent medications.
This play is a reflection on societies’ inability to accept differences in character, particularly among the weaker segments like children with ADD for example; or rebellious youth. As we become more advanced in the Western world there is a rising tendency towards conformity and hierarchy, then children get medicated for no valid reasons, women get less pay, animals are treated badly, ethnic migrant children are retained away.
It is all about power inequality in society; in the play it was the mother who implemented society’s rule over her daughter body to her detriment. Having said that, the final scene showed some sort of reconciliation between mother and daughter and the power equilibrium seems to be equally balanced between them.
A positive ending note on a very bleak human condition.
The setting was a contemporary one based on issues that we have today. Had the mother made the right decision by her daughter? Will she allow her daughter to make decisions herself now that she is 18?
It also goes back to mother/ daughter relationships and growing up. This was probably the part that touched on me a little, having lost my own mum at 17. You do have things that you never got to resolve, but in this play things do conclude in a sense.
I’d rate the performances very highly but the content itself didn’t strongly affect me. Could it be that it was aimed at a different demographic, or that not having had to make decisions like that myself I couldn’t relate? I can’t say for sure.
I did enjoy the contrasts between the first and second acts. In the second act the stakes were a lot higher. The characters themselves started speaking the truth to each other. Whether it was Oliver admitting he had issues he was dealing with in his own home, or the mother admitting how much she had dealt with when her husband passed away suddenly. Was this clouding her judgment when she made the decision to take her daughter to a Doctor and go down the medication path? You also see Anna making the decision to stop her medication, and all the drama that unfolds from that.
Vivienne also had some issues, admitting that she had tried different drugs until the “right” ones were found. Was most of the help she provided along the way guess work? Despite being the professional that Renee had turned to in the first place was it something that had helped Anna or changed her forever?
The set design was a simple affair but worked for the play. There didn’t need to be any bells and whistles given the quite emotive content.
I think it was a good production overall, not for everyone due to the nature of the content but it would certainly leave you thinking about it long after the play ended.
What did our reviewers think of BLAK BOX?
Blak box is described as a ‘deep listening’ theatre piece inviting those present to enter a period of Australia’s early history and co-exist with its first people. Blak box is a predominantly auditory experience housed in a dimly lit cube-like enclosure. The ‘audience’ is placed in a circle and exposed to the sounds of the harbour in the context of an imagined history of Barangaroo. This is also accompanied by various contemporary indigenous voices creating a sense of ambiguous time.
What stood out for me was the intimacy of the piece and how it invited the audience to partake in the generation of memory. This was done by using an almost circular seating arrangement where those present were more directly sharing the space with the shows acoustics as well as each other. The line between the audience and the piece was blurred. This made the journey not just about the past indigenous population but also about how the present audience might be part of this reclamation. This was further aided by the subtle lighting, which added a meditative quality imbuing the piece with introspection and reinforcing the non-narrative nature of the piece. This served to suspend time and place the events in a nebulous realm which perhaps brings the audience closer to the spirit and ethereal nature of Blak Box.
I liked the fact that the piece was experiential rather than being didactic as it seemed to work on a more subliminal level. This aspect of experience, I sense, creates a greater possibility of connecting to one another. If we, as a society want to build bridges between the past and the present and aboriginal and European culture, which seem so diametrically opposite to one another, then perhaps theatre can provide a conducive space for that.
This leads me to reflect upon aboriginal culture, which didn’t leave physical landmarks such as buildings and other monuments to the extent that European civilisation did. One legacy of the ‘dreaming’ is this predominantly non-physical way of experiencing and interacting with the world through our consciousness. This finds its western equivalent in the more spiritual expressions of religious traditions. In this sense, Blak Box captures the intentions of the curator and director’s aims by asking us to listen deeply for the universal humanity that is a claim of no one and a right of all.
As a long-time meditator, I felt most connected to the meditative nature of the piece for all the reasons mentioned above. It didn’t remind me of anything I’ve seen, but as an irregular theatre goer, that’s to be expected. I must admit that I was a little tired and the subtler aspects of the content were probably not fully appreciated. Nonetheless, Blak Box was a surprise and unexpectedly satisfying drawing me into myself and leaving me with the image of the translucent light house in the midst of a wintery Sydney night.
Walking around Barrangaroo Reserve when it was first opened a couple of years ago, the design of the area reminded me of one of the giant ancient temples I had visited on my travels, and it sent my mind wondering about the memories and stories that might be entombed at this newly re-planted site. So, it was with an open mind but also with some anticipation that I went along to the Blak Box performance – and I wasn’t disappointed.
The other-worldly glow of the performance space perched on top of the ‘Stargazers’ Lawn’ reminded me of an ancient fire-lit temple. The dimly lit interior and recordings of crackling fire, splashing water, wind, and other natural sounds, transported me to a space in my mind where I could be completely immersed in the place and the stories that were being re-told, or re-imagined, about the people who had once walked on that site.
I went away feeling as though a portal had been opened, to the time of Barangaroo and Patyegarang, giving those women a voice and honouring their memory. Later I reflected on how those resurrected voices relate to the recent upsurge of story-sharing in the contemporary women’s movement. In this way, I felt that Blak Box Humechochorus was as much a story for our times, and our common humanity, as it was a reflection and honouring of those particular historical figures.