Review: The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe
SYDNEY: The courageous and moving stories of four African women form the basis of this touching piece of theatre at Belvoir, writes Veronica Hannon.
“Once, there was a woman in blue…” So begins the story of Aminata Conteh, a former refugee from Sierra Leone. When war broke out in her home country, the then teenager’s world turned upside down. She was kidnapped by rebels and what she endured and how she eventually found her way to Australia is, at times, difficult to hear. She is one of four African women whose lives is the basis for a new work, a collaborative effort with director/writer Ros Horin that examines what it means to be a direct survivor of violence.
When taking in this kind of verbatim theatre it is tempting to applaud the subjects and their bravery in vocalising their experiences and in doing so, overlook any flaws – often a drift towards dull documentary – but this piece works beautifully on many levels. Music, dance and audio visuals have been delicately woven through a strong, coherent narrative created by Horin that doesn’t mess too much with what these women have to say.
On the intimate downstairs stage, Conteh is joined by Rosemary Kariuki-Fyfe from Kenya, Yarrie Bangura who grew up in a camp in Guinea and Yordanos Haile-Michael, originally from Eritrea. They share what happened to them with grace and dignity. While natural performers, the women often appear to be reliving these moments in their lives so it is appropriate they are supported by professional actors – Nancy Denis, Tariro Mavondo and Effie Nkrumah – who step in and take on the role of storyteller or who sometimes take their place to offer testimony.
There is a happy ending as the women have made new lives in Sydney but there is a lot they miss about Africa. Including dancers Eden Dessalegn and Lisa Viola, not forgetting singer/songwriter Aminata Doumbia, there are nine nations represented on stage. The joy of the markets, cooking and dancing is recounted with a great sense of fun – especially the dancing.
Having had its first sold out season earlier in the year at Riverside getting a ticket for this run is already proving tricky. As one of the performers quipped, “If we keep this up, they might move us upstairs”. Not a bad idea.
Belvoir St Theatre, Surry Hills. Until 15 September. Bookings: 02 9699 3444 or on belvoir.com.au