I went to a little party on Sunday afternoon at Zoe and Matt’s place who have relocated from genteel Melbourne to one of Redfern’s more idiosyncratic lanes – hey they are artists.
Zoe Churchill is a designer who worked on Ngapartji Ngapartji and Matt Davis is a gungho cameraman who travels the world – including working on a doco about young rappers and grafitti-artists in Burma (some in jail of course). But he also sat in the back of the Toyota with his camera when Trevor Jamieson’s cousins went Roo shooting out at Ernabella.
For a guy who gets a thrill out of surviving cyclones and American air-raids, he reckoned the trip in the back of that vehicle was the best fun he has ever had.
You all get to see the footage when the doco Nothing Rhymes With Ngapartji screens on your tele later in the year. Meanwhile a sneak preview on Wednesday night – which is ‘hold-your-breath exciting for a bunch of us who could not get out to a Alice for the first public screening a month ago. I have waxed lyrical too many times now about this trip, the making of this film and all that has come from it. But last night we went a step further when Trevor Jamieson, the film’s lead actor and maturing law man in his own right, honoured me into his family by bestowing on me my own special name – Tjaruru.
I can’t quite get my tongue around the rolling second ‘r’ yet – and I think it translates as ‘He of Many Typos’…or it could be ‘the Brother with No Sense of Direction’ . But hey for a white guy who didn’t grow up in Australia and has never quite found Australia home, this feels like a whole big step towards a much yearned-for ‘belonging’ – though I know I have a long way to go yet. Probably a life time. And a bit more.
Trevor is in town performing in Nyuntu Ngali, Big hART co-production with Windmill (Adelaide) that is currently playing at STC Wharf Two. This is officially a show for teenage kids , but it’s so classy and engaging that doesn’t occur to you when you’re watching it. Written as well as directed by Big hART honcho Scott Rankin, Nyuntu Ngali is a version of Romeo and Juliet set in Australia more than a century into the future. Like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, it is a post-technological landscape, though embued with more hope. Or you might say it is a cross between The Road and Sampson & Delilah, thoough its look and feel is entirely its own.
Nyuntu Ngali translates from Pitjanjatjara literally into ‘You We Two’ or ‘Lovers’.
“It is the 22nd century in central Australia and humanity has farewelled the days of cars, ipods and mobile telephones. The industrial and technological culture that thrived for generations has ravaged our planet. Welcome to our post climate-change future, where our very survival depends on our ability to recover the traditional hunter-gatherer skills that we have lost. It’s time to get back to basics.
“Despite the harsh environment of this post apocalyptic world, a beautiful and fragile love blossoms between Eva and Roam. Each has found a soul mate in the other but their joy will be short lived. Their wrong-skin marriage has placed them in terrible danger and they must run to escape the terrifying and unseen enemy that now threatens them.
“This moving and powerful story of survival in both English and Pitjanjatjara is interspersed with sand storytelling, choreography, video art, shadow play, weaving and a highly atmospheric musical score.”
The storyline has been clarified since opening in Adelaide, as we witness the young lovers, mere teenagers, struggle to survive after being drive out by their families for their ‘wrong-skin’ relationship. Eva (Anne Golding) is white and Roam (Derek Lynch) is black. Jamieson plays the role of narrator and also represents the life force of the child, ‘nostalgically’ named Petrol. To my taste the movement now is a little over-choreographed and I get the sense there are fewer songs. But there are still the strong projected visuals, including ‘live’ sand paintings undertaken by singer Jennifer Wells. I guess what I should say is like all Big hART work, Nyuntu Ngali continues to grow and change; and while this Sydney version is better overall (certainly the story is easier to follow and more fun for kids) than what we saw in Adelaide, it would undoubtedly evolve further if given the chance.
The production did not have enough time to settle into Sydney for opening night, which was stressful for the artists and crew; but the only obvious defect for that audience was some loss in the amplifying of the actors’ voices. Trevor tells me the show has settled in.
One of highlights of the production is watching the development of the two young actors. Derek Lynch in particular embodies the x-factor found in any first class performer, and it is sweet to watch him at the moment because he is not yet seasoned enough to be aware of this. He has a source of power that reminds one of a young Trevor Jamieson. And while Jamieson possesses a compelling physicality, I am not sure he could match Lynch’s ‘John Travolta’ disco moves.
Under the guidance of musical director Beth Sometimes, Jennifer Wells is another Aboriginal performer who is cautiously growing on confidence. I follow the Big hART story, especially in relation top its Aboriginal work because I sincerely believe we are watching a Australian theatre history in the making. Something very special is happening, focused at its most intense between Jamieson and Rankin, but many others – black, white and (as my mother would say) brindle – are also swept into this swirling orbit.
My patron saint is St Jude – ‘hope for the hopeless’ – better still – ‘desperate cases and lost causes’. What’s lovely about this show is that it will surely inspire young people to discuss very many topical subjects embraced in over-arching theme of love’s endurance: as in Romeo and Juliet – against all odds. With or without St Jude’s protection, there is no life without hope. Nyuntu Ngali puts that proposition to the 21ist century’s first generation of young adults.