Review By Alice Mooney
Bighouse Dreaming is a critique of the youth justice system portrayed as a well-oiled toxic and patriarchal machine, devoid of humility and compassion. Declan Furber-Gillick presents a snapshot into the life of a 16year old indigenous boy treading the divide between juvenile detention and homelessness. We are introduced to Christopher Wallace or Chris, who has given himself the rap name C-War. Chris has big aspirations to become a rapper and we see him interact with his friends Jez and Lee-boy talking about music, different beats and lyrics. Chris is charming and confident and has the audience wrapped around his finger. Furber-Gillick highlights all the things we love and make us smile when we think of the happy-go-lucky teenage boy attitude and how well they can mask their own fears. After not showing for a hearing, a warrant for Chris’ arrest, sets in motion a direct path into custody.
Furber-Gillick opens the performance by encircling the stage in a layer of red earth emblematic of Arrernte country in Mparntwe (Alice Springs) where he is from. He is fierce and masterful in his performance as Chris with smooth transitions into characters Lee-Boy and Jez. Dushan Phillips plays Chris’ lawyer, Anand, who works for the Aboriginal Legal Service. Anand is articulate, positive and driven at the beginning. He wants the best for Chris and sees the good in him. The have a brotherly chemistry on stage and this friendship, as well as Anand’s career, is a further perspective of how the failing system and its effects, bleed into the community. Without any immediate supportive family members, Anand is Chris’ main support and symbol of hope. Ross Daniels as the judge and a dodgy detention officer, brings all the expected arrogance and delusional power represented in his characters. He presents the theme of ‘inaction’ as the villain of the piece.
I love the Fairfax Studio, its organic shape and steep seating, however, it was a big space for the size of performance. It had no real negative impact, but this performance would benefit from greater intimacy. As well as this there were a couple of moments for example, the psych test, where the lighting felt too vast, showing the surrounding mezzanine, when a spotlight may provide greater depth to the scene. When I first saw the flip-top conference tables, I wouldn’t have imagined that they could be used so generously and ideally. Given the play’s limited prop use, the set design functioned well and added dramatic effect. There were clever, choreographed transitions and the presence of the shifting tables on stage played a detrimental role in the story.
Furber-Gillick’s vision is strong and the narrative is succinct. It’s a meaty script and the character profiling is stark and real. There is commentary on the measure of sexual assault allegations and their fleeting inconvenience, while women’s invisibility also has a role to play. The one-hour run-time creates an impactful climax. Audience members will experience a discomfort so generously and bravely presented, as a very real consequence of our failing justice system against first nations people and youth. The final scene continues to haunt me, and this performance will no doubt inspire many overdue conversations. On a lighter note, Furber-Gillicks ability to slip so easily into the skin of a 16-year-old youth is really enjoyable and you won’t shake the catchy rap lyrics from your mind. His character’s addictive chuckle will leave you giggling, along with his charming antics and sharp Aboriginal English banter.
Declan Furber-Gillick brings Bighouse Dreaming to life through a rhythmic script, captivating portrayal and an inspired energy. I hope, and imagine, that he has a vast catalogue of yarns yet to come.