Review by Kate Gaul
In its 23rd year, Milk Crate Theatre continues to create socially relevant and paradigm-shifting performance work. Milk Crate makes work specifically by and with people with lived experience of homelessness, mental health issues and disability. It effects social change through the power of performance and provides opportunities for people whose voices are under-represented to engage in artistic practice to build confidence, skills, and connections.
If you are unfamiliar with the work of this exceptional company, then DUST – now playing at the Richard Wherrett Studio - is a great introduction. For those of us who have been engaging with Milk Crate’s performance work over many years, DUST marks a development, change and exciting chapter for Milk Crate.
This is a work that emerged from the COVID hiatus in public performance. This meant the company had to devise on-line. A major work was born, and it isn’t reliant on personal testimony or even social justice issues. DUST is a narrative drama, set in an imagined country motel. There’s a dust storm coming. A woman, two old school friends and her daughter are locked in as the crisis pass. Yeah, you can feel its genesis through the isolation of COVID. DUST is more resonant than just a play about COVID!
The Richard Wherrett Studio is a striking space – with its elegant, exposed bricks, timber floor and evidence of past industry. Director Margot Politis situates the audience in the centre of the room on small stools and the action takes place either side of us on raised platforms. We are in the centre of an imagined common area of a motel. The platforms are hung with layers of found curtaining, the occasional generic picture in a frame, and some motel-esque furniture. The combinations of fabric (also designed by Margot Politis, assisted by Sam Read) and atmospheric lighting (designed by Liam O’Keefe) create a beautiful, sometimes creepy, and gothic aesthetic. Perfect for the revelation of secrets, lies and existential concerns with which the work deals.
Director/designer Margot Politis achieves great success with guiding the development of both story and characters. She also inspires the confidence of the cast to use text, movement, stillness, and silence to great effect. There is beauty in experiencing performers working to the edges of their ability. Sound designer Prema Yin adds to the literal and metaphoric world of DUST with an eerie, unexpected, and primal score. The fragility of human connection, our hopes, dreams, and regrets are conveyed through the unity of design and performance – and importantly the subversive relationship the audience has with the action as we are sitting right in the middle of it all!
Kamini Singh plays Elixir – a mum with a secret, hard-working motel owner and carer of all in this remote town. She plays the role with dignity. Her constant movement – often in slow motion – provide gravitas and elegance. Her high-octane daughter, Jeddi, is played by a fierce Lana Filies. Sparks fly when she’s on-stage and she creates a detailed, funny, touching portrait of a teen with an unsure future. Lana also impressed in Milk Crate’s production Tiny Universe. She is a talent to watch! Matthais Nudi is William. He’s well cast as the quiet centre of the work - a schoolteacher who has lived at the motel for ever. Friend and confidant to all his loyalties are challenged with the arrival of new guests. Old friend Kirra returns to bury her mum. Darlene Proberts brings her natural grace and presence to the role. Her character journey serves to remind us of the plight of the stolen generations and generational trauma that is not taught in schools. Desmond Edwards plays Two Bob - a mysterious stranger. He has panache and a constant twinkle in his eye. Is he a seer, charlatan, or prison guard?
It takes a village to make a new work. I mention this because the production is ably supported by emerging theatre luminary and assistant director Lily Hayman; Key support artist Lucy Watson, Producer Jessica Saras and Production Manager Tyler Fitzpartick.
There is great energy and a bourgeoning range of what I call outsider art emerging in Australian theatre. With a heightened awareness of social responsibility companies such as Milkcrate in Sydney can be viewed as a catalyst for challenging the stigma associated with functional diversity. Inclusion and recognition of difference are powerful art making elements. DUST is such a great show. Recommended!
Image Credit: Robert Catto