Review by Lauren Donikian
The Ensemble Theatre in Kirribilli feels like a well-kept secret amongst the locals. This became obvious very early on, as members of the audience made their way to their seats without assistance from the ushers. The theatre was smokey, lit with purple and yellow lighting and smooth jazz playing on arrival. The set was simple, a mic-stand, stool, keyboard, and a vase of Australian natives. It felt welcoming right from the start, and even more so as Ursula and her accompanist Novack made their way onto the stage. She was glistening in her sequined top, hair down in relaxed waves, and high heels. Over the course of the show, Ursula would share the story of her life and moments that shaped her.
She talked about her family, the separation of her parents, how she grew up with her father, and how she felt when she lost her mother. Ursula is raw, honest, and is a beautiful storyteller. Her passion for the words she is saying and songs she is singing shines through. You feel almost in a trance whilst listening to her story. Listening so hard to not miss a piece of information. She continues the show with poems that she has written, these are underscored by accompanist Novack, and reveals the story behind the songs that she has written and sings throughout the show.
The lights shift to white as Ursula addresses the audience. At one point she sings a Filipino song and at another an Aboriginal song, both acapella. The shift in her vocals is fascinating. When singing these songs, it seemed as though she was singing from the very back of her throat, it was guttural and confident. It was clear that these were sung with pride and admiration of things she had learned growing up.
When singing her own songs, it felt intimate, as she drew us in. Her voice was soft at times and powerful in others. She has a wide vocal range, occasionally breathy and with vibrato but always sung straight from the heart. The microphone was too loud during some parts of the show, but her voice is so powerful that you can forgive that.
Ursula does not shy away from who she is and tells her story passionately. Kicking off her shoes, she talks about her mob and explains how the families work and the traditional names of each group. It is an insight into how one with the earth she is at that time. Grounded, confident, and willing to share all that she knows. Her shoes stay off for the rest of the show, as the lights change from purple and yellow to blue and yellow.
I could’ve listened to Ursula for hours; she bared her soul on that stage mentioning that after her mother’s passing, she lost a sense of herself and her community. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house as she revealed her true feelings. The emotion that she expresses in her songs, stories, and poems envelope you and as the lights shift into a purple and white design, she sings her last song and leaves the stage. The set is simple a keyboard, stool, and her high heels in front of her mic- stand.