Review: ‘Aliwa’

Company B Belvoir artistic director Neil Armfield's reworking of Dallas Winmar's script based on the recollections of Australian aboriginal elder Dot Collard is a disappointment.

Company B Belvoir artistic director Neil Armfield’s reworking of Dallas Winmar’s script based on the recollections of Australian aboriginal elder Dot Collard is a disappointment.

Indigenous Australian artists are now at the vanguard of domestic visual art, film, dance, literature and theater. Vibrant recent examples of indigenous art include Leah Purcell’s one-woman play “Box the Pony,” Rachel Perkin’s film “One Night the Moon” and Bangarra Dance Theatre’s “Skin.” Phillip Gwynne’s novel “Deadly Unna” and Doris Pilkington’s “Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence” are both soon to be released as films. But Armfield’s “Aliwa” is a vaudevillian relic that conjures the country’s unenlightened past.

Winmar’s script, while well-intentioned, is slight. It details Mum Collard’s successful battle to raise her family during the 1930s despite white pressures for her children to be removed and institutionalized for training as domestic servants.

The evening begins with an introduction by Collard herself, then morphs into a dramatization by three actors. Occasional direct addresses to the audience and comments come from Collard, who sits at the side of the stage. Her presence, designed to imbue perf with authenticity, instead seemed to created tension, especially for award-winning actress Deb Mailman (“The Secret Life of Us”), occasionally called on to answer to her alter ego.

The play hit bottom with a surreal fairground scene featuring the actors, Collard and musician Frankie J. Bropho dancing a jig. Hammy perfs from the three lead actors were a disappointment.

Robert Cousins’ dirt floor and corrugated iron set provided a good backdrop, but the smoldering campfire introduced in the second act belabored its point. Watering eyes should have been brought on by emotion, not eye irritation.


Belvoir Street Theater, Sydney, Australia; 350 seats, A$38 ($20) tops


A Company B Belvoir presentation of a play in two acts by Dallas Winmar with musical accompaniment by Frankie J Bropho & Wayne Freer. Directed by Neil Armfield.


Set, Robert Cousins; costumes, Jodie Fried; lighting, Mark Howett; sound, Wei Han Liao; music, Wayne Freer. Opened, reviewed Aug. 15, 2001. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MIN.


Aunty Dot Collard - Herself Ethel - Kylie Belling Mum - Ningali Lawford Dot - Deborah Mailman
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