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Review: My Urrwai at the Sydney Opera House

By Gabriel Faatau’uu-Satiu

There aren’t many places you can go in Sydney to celebrate original Australian works that offer an insight into the varied talents of Australian artists. Where we can celebrate unique voices and stories, in the form of cabaret, dance, theatre and more. Cue Festival UnWrapped, a hub for Independent Australian performance and a champion for Australian talent. Within this festival sits a powerful solo work by multiple award winning choreographer and acclaimed comedian Ghenoa Gela - which from the moment the show opens I can understand exactly why this show has been included in the festival.

My Urrwai examines the many obstacles Gela faced as both a queer woman and a woman of Torres Strait Islander descent, chronologically taking us through her story with an emphasis on how Gela’s upbringing shifted her experiences as an adult. As the show unfolds, we follow Gela’s family tree and are offered an honest and unapologetic insight into what being Torres Strait Islander means to her. At times it feels disheartening when the audience is quick to laugh at Gela’s journey and the obstacles encountered, from people mispronouncing her name to having to compromise her cultural identity. However, it is part of what makes this performance so successful - through strong comedic choices she creates a persona that is impossible not to love, then uses this relationship with the audience to force them to question their own privilege.

The stories that were shared throughout this production were incredibly brave, and were supported by some bold direction choices. Gela breaks the fourth wall a number of times and creates simple vignettes to reenact instances of racial profiling that she has experienced, from shopping at a high-end costume store to interactions with police. The giggles that trickled from the audience during these moments say a lot about Gela’s bravery and her coming of age, but what does it say to our nation and how much coming of age we still yet need to do?

As a person of colour who identifies within the LGBTQIA+ community, Gela’s story proves to be universal and allows for an audience to see a person of colour, who is female and identifies in the rainbow community by showcasing many facets of their characteristics by addressing that she is all those things and does not fit nor conform in this stereotypical colonial ideology. Judging by the standing ovation on opening night, I, as a person of colour who continues to encounter these adversities on a daily basis commend Gela’s bravery for sharing a story that isn’t commonly shared aloud within our communities.

My Urrwai is bold, unapologetic, political and gives us an insight on what it means to be queer, female and Torres Strait Islander. There are so many messages that come through which Gela has cleverly addressed. The strongest for me is honouring our ancestral traditions, and our responsibility we have to our indigenous people. After all, this is their land. People say we should never forget where we come from, but after watching My Urrwai, I say that we should never forget who we come from.

Photo Credit: Daniel Boud

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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