Review by Stephanie Lee
Coconut Woman is such a beautiful exploration of Torres Strait Islander culture on the stage. The play is storytelling in its purest form and the result is a deeply moving, beautiful work about connection to place and culture. The themes of home and family are what emotionally drives the piece and are at the heart of every single moment on the stage that you will feel drawn into the community too.
The plot follows a young successful Melbourne business owner Nancy who in search of a lighthouse for work visits her family up North after 30 years of never meeting them. Running parallel to Nancy’s story is that of her mother Shilita, who rejected her island lifestyle in search of life in the big city South. Although the story revolves around these two women, the piece is truly an ensemble work that puts the plot together piece by piece with every character playing a part in realising the whole.
Starting in complete darkness, the work instantly establishes its acoustic vibe with vocals and a single guitar creating atmospheric music for the entire performance. The guitarist (Jayden Lillyst) remains onstage the whole show yet is interwoven so seamlessly into the scenery of it that he never pulls focus from the action unintentionally and his playing perfectly sits under the scenes played out by other actors on stage.
As for the set, I absolutely adored the ocean inspired design by Robyne Latham with the backdrop of the skene designed by Jenny Hector. The sail like patterns in the set, the balcony and the wharf like thrust piece effectively enables the actors to utilise levels and establish places of action within the set. For example, the balcony is used in the scenes between Cessy (Deb Lowah Clark) and Harry Gazeer (Charles Passi), whereas the wharf area of the set is primarily utilised in the scenes between a younger Harry (Cory Brunskill-Sayor) and Shilita (Laila Thaker).
The gradient lighting of the skene is also a beautiful addition to the black set and creates a gorgeous depiction of the sky with pinks/blues for night-time scenery and oranges/yellows for daytime.
All of the cast are so incredibly talented and charismatic the entire performance that you can’t help but feel in some way a part of the story. In the meeting scenes of the play, the audience is powerfully endowed as fellow meeting participants with actors acknowledging the crowd’s presence. This effectively allows the audience to play the role of bystander in the meeting, unable to speak out when the community’s voice is not listened to.
My favourite parts of the play were the group music numbers because the collective harmonies produced by the cast were incredibly powerful to listen to and beautifully created a sense of ‘home’ and community. Writer, Director and Producer Maryanne Sam has certainly created a refreshing piece of culturally inspired theatre that will move all who it touches with its powerful simplicity and deep consideration of the tensions of reunification.
This poignant homecoming story with its wonderful cast is not one to miss at the Yirramboi festival! If you haven’t already got tickets to see it, then get in quick because it is only on until this Saturday the 15th of May!