Which Way Home is a moving, charming tribute to the little things that make up a family. The play is both funny and poignant, delivering smiles and sadness in equal balance, leaving you to contemplate your own parental relationships.
Produced by pre-eminent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander theatre company, ILBIJERRI, Which Way Home fits beautifully in this year’s Sydney Festival line-up. There is no hiding the fact that a lot of writer Katie Beckett’s own life has gone into this work. As she explains in her program notes, this is a story of unconditional love, inspired by her relationship with her own father.
When the play opens, we join Tash (Beckett) and her father (Tony Briggs) – known simply as Dad – as they are about to embark on a road trip across southern Queensland, to return Dad to country. Along the way they recall key moments from Tash’s childhood, shaped by the absence of a mother and the challenges faced by an Aboriginal father in a white-washed community.
This environment could have drawn Beckett’s piece into socio-political territory, but instead she focuses on more universal themes. Tash’s recollections are humorous and tinged with the embarrassment only parents can trigger. Through her eyes, we see that her father is devoted, annoying and completely lovable.
Queenslanders will delight at the mention of towns like Toowoomba, Millmerran and Goondiwindi (and the passionate support given to the Brisbane Broncos). To help invoke the feeling of travel, Beckett and Briggs perform in front of an oversized road map, lit in a dusty red-orange reminiscent of the colour of the dirt of the area. As their conversation dissolves into memory, the action moves to either side of the map, complemented by subtle lighting changes, designed by Niklas Pajanti.
Director, Rachael Maza, has kept this piece appropriately contained; it is a small story about small things, and the simple staging reflects that. Nothing is interpreted too literally, which places the whole work in a memory or dream-like state. The car at the centre of the road trip is made of boxes and crates, which are packed and then gradually unpacked, reflecting the lives of the characters on stage.
But Maza’s skill as a director is most on show in the performances she conjures from the two actors. Beckett delivers real feeling without losing control, an impressive effort given the personal nature of the content. Briggs is wonderful as Dad. His performance runs the full gamut of emotion. He is natural, endearing and immensely watchable.
The majority of the show has no accompanying soundtrack, which is fitting, given the closeness of the dialogue, but also unfortunate due to the peripheral noise that drifts in from the upstairs theatre and lobby. The occasional musical interludes, courtesy of sound designer, Mark Coles Smith, are nostalgic and sweet – and will probably stick in your brain for a few hours after!
The downstairs stage at Belvoir is more often than not home to some surprising gems and Which Way Home definitely fits into that category. And with a starting time of 7pm and just over an hour’s worth of action, you’ll have plenty of time to reflect on the piece with friends at one of Surry Hills many trendy eateries.
Which Way Home is playing downstairs at Belvoir St Theatre until 29th January. For tickets, go here.
The reviewer attended a preview on Wednesday 11th January.
Photo Credit: Steven Rhall