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Review: Black Drop Effect, Bankstown Arts Centre and Sydney Festival

Review By Naomi Hamer

Black Drop Effect is a timely new performance that tries to grapple with the enormity and the emotion Australia’s First Nations people feel towards using the 26th January as a celebration, especially in the wake of the 250th anniversary of Cook’s Endeavour expedition. Produced by Bankstown Arts Centre in collaboration with Sydney Festival, Black Drop Effect is a nuanced new one act play by Yuwaalaraay woman and famed Stiff Gins musician Nardi Simpson. Black Drop Effect emerged from a short term residency by the Stiff Gins in 2018 at Bankstown Arts Centre and centres on traditional knowledge and the transference of culture from generation to generation.

William McPherson plays Binno, an Aboriginal elder and former member of a community dance group who is an unwavering presence throughout, who is asked to present a series of traditional dances, alongside readings of Captain Cook’s diaries, for a 26 January celebration. Unsure, until his sister Beenie (Marlene Cummins) convinces him to teach the dances to three young men - Beenie’s level headed and academically inclined grandson Max played by Googoorewon Knox, Out of towner Brayden who struggles with fitting in and his ADHD (Isaiah Kennedy) and respectful and young local Charley Boy (Ken Weldon) who are all seeking connections with culture, country and their place in the world.

The stage was sparse with an outdoor set that includes a sandy, grass hill that transforms through Lucy Simpson’s hypnotic visual design and Mic Gruchy’s electric video design. The beautiful animated projections of animals such as sting ray and cockatoo, echo between scenes. The most affecting, a projection of a camp fire on the sand dunes.The majority of the play was set on the sand dunes near Kurnell, projected onto a screen around the stage perimeter and performed in a specially built outdoor theatre in Bankstown Arts Centre’s Courtyard. With the train line as the backdrop for a humid summer evening and a constant reminder of the passing of time in 10-15 minute intervals throughout the evening. Whilst the cast wore microphones and could have spoken over each train there was a reverence towards each actors pause - often mid sentence as they turned their backs to the audience and facing towards each train while it hurtled past. By the end of the play, the pauses turned impatient, with Andy’s (Anthony Hunt) monologue of passages from Captain Cook’s diaries and Pip talking over the trains. Andy, dramatically as the actor playing Captain Cook.

A highlight of the performance was Googoorewon Knox’s singing of the White Cockatoo. Set up as a future leader of the next generation, his performance as the level headed and calm Max, who was learning to embody traditional knowledge after championing his academic studies for so long, studying Aboriginal studies at university - much to the dismay of his elders, was spot on. It was the misunderstood and perpetually angry Brayden who had the biggest arc, with Binno teaching him the importance of letting people in and learning to look past his anger. Matt Doyle’s choreography was hypnotic, working with composer and sound designer James Henry. Although, regarding sound, there were moments towards the end where the passing trains felt like they were interfering with the overall soundscapes which underlined the play. Karen Norris’s lighting design underscored the performance, reflecting the Kurnell beach scenes throughout and with more subtlety reserved for the dances and scene changes during the Captain Cook monologues.

Directed by Felix Simpson and with Amber Silk as production manager, executively produced by Vandana Ram and produced by Katrina Douglas, Black Drop Effect is an exciting new work that begins to broach a critical discussion for our times, led by First Nations artists. And as the 250th anniversary of Cook’s voyage to Australia fast approaches, Black Drop Effect is one of the first examinations of the significance of the 250th anniversary that we’ll see this year. With performances, exhibitions, talks and festival programs around the country set to grapple with some of the most contentious and significant moments of Australia’s recent history.

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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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