Review By Rowan Brunt
A play with song, M’ap Boulé, is part revolution and unfurling lyrical storytelling of a child born of immigrants growing up in Australia on Gadigal land. This intimate communal experience has been presented by Urban Theatre projects at the Eternity Playhouse, Darlinghurst Theatre Company.
I have a strong belief that theatre can create a new collective or community in how we in the moment connect to an artists story and create a new synergy. This is not always successful or even the intention of the piece, but what Nancy Denis has created and delivered in M’ap Boulé is a place of community. M’ap Boulé was developed through Urban Theatre projects (UTP) and is presented with Darlinghurst Theatre Company in this world premiere.
M’ap Boulé is, in its simplest form, Nancy Denis' story and the interweaving of how her migrant Haitian parents came to Australia and how her identity was shifted and moulded by her experiences by living and growing up on Gadigal Land. She explores the intersection of her blackness, Australianness, Haitian and queerness. But it is also so much more. The story is Denis entwining the members of her community into the formation that we see before us. The piece begins with the story of a child of Haitian immigrants and the revolution in Haitian to become independent , how good people are forced to do bad things to free themselves from their colonisers. We follow as Denis navigates living on unceded stolen land themselves, moving through a schooling system, beauty standards and expectations, sex, mental illness and emerging into our own queerness. What is particularly powerful is how Denis explains the phrase M’ap Boulé “I’m on fire” and how through recounting all these stories we see how Denis themselves has nurtured and stoked their own internal flame to be the glowing beacon that they are on the stage before us.
Denis is a powerhouse of charisma and talent. From the get go they welcome the audience and make us feel present in her story. Nothing that a little fashion show can’t fix. We are drawn to her in moments of vulnerability and exposure as her smooth voice opens us up to her soul. In complete opposition the way their face lights up or shifts is perfect for more comedic parts of the show and the way she makes these shifts is impressive. Scatter in some 90’s/00’s references and she has the audience in the palm of her hand.
What I particularly love is the reciprocity of energy on stage from Denis to her co-performers Kween G, a live commentator, rapper and sound board for Denis on stage, and her two musicians Mick Stuart and the musical director on keys/violin/ saw, Victoria Falconer. The trio all provide Denis with a different energy that fuels her piece and keeps it engaging and flowing throughout the whole piece.
We can not move through this piece without speaking to the incredible compositions by Carl St. Jacques, sadly not with us anymore (may he rest in power). Denis spoke to his passing at the top of the performance and you can tell that there is a connection to the music and their collaboration that is truly special. The songs vary from soulful melodies, bursting open your chest bleeding out your heart, to warm and charming pieces, flushing your cheeks and bringing a smile to your face.
Key elements of the piece like Denis incredible costumes and the ethereal almost spiritual set by Costume/Set Designer Maitê Inaê and the lighting design by Karen Norris is chilling at times and at other times fresh and exuberant. Being present in the space brings a sense of places of worship in which Denis' world exists, smoke and incense, soft music of the polymba, hanging sheets from the roof in pale earthy tones, candles surrounding the playing space. We really are on sacred land.
M’ap Boulé is a challenge for us as audience to take stock of some of the oppressive structures we have been part of and through Denis' invitation to start making changes to, like her, break free and heal in our own authenticity.