Review By Theodora Galanis
“I don't want to play house; I know it can't be fun
I've watched mommy and daddy
And if that's the way it's done
I don't want to play house; It makes my mommy cry
'Cause when she played house
My daddy said good-bye”
The country music classic, “I Don’t Wanna Play House” won Tammy Wynette a Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance in 1968. Wynette was a best-selling American country music singer-songwriter in the sixties and seventies.
Tammy Anderson, Australian performer, director and playwright, names her show after the country singer’s hit. I Don’t Wanna Play House is a raw piece of Australian theatre that traces the semi-autobiographical story of Anderson’s childhood. Bold and courageous, Anderson shares her experience of family abuse in this intimate theatrical journey through monologue, movement and song.
Like the theme of Wynette’s song, Anderson similarly explores the painful cycle of domestic violence in a uniquely Australian context. What does it mean to ‘play house’ in a system that oppresses children, women, and First Nations people? The uncanny connections between the American artist and Anderson continue to appear throughout the performance: their shared first name, their love for country music, and their early careers as hairdressers.
In its production elements, the performance is stripped back. Anderson wears a simple black singlet with tights. No props and no set. Just her face, her body and the lights. In a single beat, she transforms from innocent child to aggressive abuser. Her skill as a performer shines in these fast-paced scenes, building emotional tension only to relieve us with a bitter-sweet joke or an upbeat melody.
In the same way that our memories work, the script captures the peculiar experience of remembering pain. It is hazy and disjointed: in the past, the edges of time bleed into one another. However, at once, it is incredibly precise and accurate. Some things, you never forget.
The characters are familiar but their quirky idiosyncrasies make them feel real and unique to Anderson’s story. The performance is held together by powerful female roles, as Anderson captures the strength and vulnerability of the women in her life. Her mother is a passionate romantic, and her grandmother, a grounding voice of reason and stability. We watch as her own character grows from a three-year old baby who becomes accustomed to constantly moving between houses, to a loud-mouthed teenager who causes trouble in school.
A proud Pakana woman, Anderson has been heavily involved in Australia’s indigenous art’s scene, and in 2010, was awarded the ‘Uncle Bob Maza Award’ her significant contribution to Indigenous theatre. I Don’t Wanna Play House is presented alongside a range of other Indigenous performances at Tandanya’s First Nation Hub. Founded in 1990, this year marks Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute’s thirtieth anniversary.
Anderson is unafraid when exploring our country’s issues with poverty, racism, violence, child abuse, and trauma. Above all, she shows us what it is to be a woman, a storyteller, and a survivor. I had few words upon leaving the theatre. I felt at once heavy and light listening to the shaky, sniffled breathing of those around me. Anderson is a living example of the power of healing and of truth telling. I Don’t Wanna Play House is an important piece of art for all Australians.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.