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Review: Barbara and the Camp Dogs at Belvoir

By Sasha Meaney

Barbara and the Camp Dogs opens to the cheering of a loving audience for Barbara and Renee at the mic. As they sing, their voices drip with attitude, amplified by the Camp Dogs behind them. The show begins as riotous fun, all humour in the face of struggle, unfolding to be a deep reflection on chosen family and allowing love to heal. In this, Ursula Yovich and Alana Valentine have written complex, fiery and intelligent women who are exploring their relationships with others, with history and with repressed parts of themselves. It is captivating from start to finish.

The relationship between Barbara and René, played by Yovich and Elaine Crombie respectively, is one of the most believable I’ve seen on stage. Yovich throws herself into Barbara like dynamite ready to explode at any minute, balanced by Crombie’s René who is so earnest I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The show follows them as they find their way back to Katherine to visit Mum Jill. On the journey home they pull at each other for love, in ways that have been written so consistent to their character that when René screams in the middle of the street for attention the audience laughs as if they have known these women for a lifetime.

The music of the show is perfectly paced with the beats of the play, adding insight for the audience on each character’s emotional states and their ways of coping. It feels inclusive of the audience in a way that plays often can’t due to their commitment to the plot. Yovich, Crombie and Troy Brady sing the last number with such soul stirring feeling that it’s hard to separate not just the characters from the actors on stage but from our own experiences as well. After a wild and very fun first half, the music in the second is bluesy and demanding from all its performers. Technically perfect, but with their hearts bared to all - there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Barbara and the Camp Dogs is unmissable. It reminds audiences of the pact they make with chosen family, to in strength, fear and anger fight for them when they need extra loving but are unable to ask for it. It also deeply engages with how cultural and generational trauma can intertwine with the personal and greatly disrupt our sense of self and community - a specific cruelty that has been inflicted upon Indigenous Australians. These women disrupt the stereotype and aren’t afraid to put a relationship on stage where they truly hurt each other out of frustration and are angry but match that with love. I had never seen an audience stand so quickly to their feet. Important theatre with formidable heart, you leave the better for having seen it.

Photo Credit: Brett Boardman

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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