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heartBeast – vicious theatre ensemble 2012 – perform “Mother Country”

Anywhere Theatre Festival 2012
heartBeast – vicious theatre ensemble 2012 (Queensland Terrace, State Library of Queensland)
Duration: 50 minutes
Rating: MA 15+

On Mother’s Day we celebrate family. In Mother Country we converse with the convict women of Moreton Bay, mothers of the future Brisbane.

The State Library’s Queensland Terrace is framed by the Great Wall of China – a collection of teacups, saucers and crockery. As we enter, we are invited to interact with the performers, and to follow instructions as the play unfolds.

On stage are a richly dressed lady and gentleman each sipping a cup of tea, the unofficial emblem of the British Empire. The captive women are afraid of the guard. “He’s not a good ‘un,” said one to me. They’ve reason to be afraid of more than the guard.

When the British government realised the colonies were populated by males (local government, soldiers, convicts, a few settlers), it changed policy. Women convicted of petty crimes would be transported to Australia. Many would be government-appointed whores for the sailors and the men in the colonies.

The shocking script is based on research, and is a collaboration between the performance ensemble and guest director Jacqueline McCarthy-Kerr.

The promenade style of performance – where actors and audience share the space – works very well on the spacious Queensland Terrace.

Chairs arrayed down the length of the space are reconfigured (under orders) into rows facing the dock. We witness the women being charged, then stripped of their dresses (to camisole and knickerbockers). The scarf each is given becomes a symbol of her bondage. She will not wear a dress again until she marries.

We become the transport tall ship by a simple realignment of chairs and the addition of a female figurehead on the prow; and we witness the stylised atrocities inflicted on the women.

Upon landfall in Australia, the women enter the female factory – in Brisbane, this was on the site of the current GPO – where we finally hear their personal stories, and witness their release through marriage.

The tale unfolds through physical theatre, audience interaction, storytelling and song. Folk tunes are used effectively. Ensemble songs include “row, row your boat” (at odds with transportation by tall-ship), and “down in the valley” (“how could you use a poor maiden so?”). Musician and sound designer, Peter Crees, provides a sensitive soundtrack threaded with violin and percussion.

Mother Country is skilfully conceived and performed. The audience were horrified at what these women faced. The low-key level of audience interaction achieved its purpose: to unsettle and to involve us as witnesses. More interaction would have been too much. And it ends with positive stories: after all, without these women, the present Australia would not have been born.

The performance is rated for mature audiences (MA 15+) and is an Anywhere Theatre Festival must-see.

Performance seen: 13 May 2012
Review and photo: Shirley Way

heartBeast – vicious theatre ensemble 2012
Director/Designer: Jacqueline McCarthy-Kerr
Script developed by Jacqueline McCarthy-Kerr in collaboration with performance ensemble
Cast: Selina Cadell, Emily Pollard, Amy Sullivan, Samantha Cable, Briellen Juracie, Ian Bielenberg, Jacob Paint
Sound Designer/Musician: Peter Crees
Posted at Anywhere Theatre Festival http://anywherefest.com/blog/2012/05/review-mother-country-halfway-between-whore-and-history/

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