By Mike Karadjis
SYDNEY — With two weekends still to run, the second Multicultural Theatre Festival is already a success. "Australian Accents" features 17 theatre companies of Australians from different cultural backgrounds.
The opening night audience was greeted by a spectacular display of 20 actors dancing and playing instruments from their various cultures. An opening address by Aboriginal actor and director Lydia Miller described much of Australia's mainstream theatre as reflecting a reality "distant from our shores". In creating a new theatre which reflects the Australian reality, the real story of conquest and oppression of the Aboriginal people would have to be told, she said.
This was followed by the play Nallawilli by Kooris in Theatre, based on Aboriginal dreamtime stories but giving them a modern chapter by including stories of the forced separation of children from their parents.
The many groups performing have employed a great range of form and content, cutting across both traditional forms and the idea that these groups perform only plays that reflect the reality of the countries they derive from.
Naturally, some do have a lot to do with overseas situations — it would be hard to imagine a Kurdish performance which did not at least touch on the reality of genocide. The Crime by New Kurdish Theatre, put together by Nahro Jalal Shera in a very brief time since his arrival in Australia, successfully evoked an emotional response to the suffering of his people.
On the other hand, Sunday Breakfast by the Greek group Takeaway Theatre, while a short and simple plot, concentrated on the realities of Greek Australians, and Evil Eye by Bochinche took us through the lives of young Spanish Australians under the conflicting pressures of two different cultures. The actors in Evil Eye were all young people from the Fairfield area without previous acting experience.
Searching for a Dream by the Australian Chinese Performing Artists Association traced the story of Chinese settlement in Australia. In many ways a highlight in terms of theatrical form, the superb mixture of dance, ceremony, movement, humour and imagery made the play quite understandable, whether or not the viewer knew Chinese.
This problem of language in multicultural theatre is addressed in a variety of ways, from using a mixture of languages, through subtitles to emphasis on non-verbal expression. The Latin American group Triquinuela and the Arabic group Taqa, both of which can be seen the next two weekends, use a mixture of many forms of expression to get their message across. Speaking of Triquinuela's upcoming play Delirium, Racquel Carvajal said their aim was to "put into theatre some of our experiences as migrant women living in Australia. We all find that theatre is a wonderful medium to express ourselves with others who share a similar interest, working in creative form."
A different angle was taken by writer and performer Saleh Saqqaf in his incredible one person show The man who lost his shadow, based on a story about a man who is jailed in a mythical Third World country, the republic of Babaganoush, for treading on the ruler's shadow when the ruler returns to the country to restore "democracy and stability" as well as "human rights, women's rights, oil rights, nuclear rights ... and the Geneva Convention". In a dynamic and hilarious performance, he plays the ruler, the unfortunate offender, the judge, George Bush playing golf ("don't tell me about it, I'm on holidays") and others. Issues of Third World poverty and repression and hypocrisy of the great powers are presented in a most lively way.
Next weekend (September 11-13) the festival will continue at the Studio Theatre, Newtown School of Performing Arts, and the last weekend (September 18-20) at the Francis Greenway Centre, Library Plaza, Liverpool. For information ring 550 9887 or 560 9167.