Review by Miranda Michalowski
‘Scattergun: After the Death of Rūaumoko’ is a powerful meditation on grief, identity, and connection to the land, written and performed by the Māori artist Ana Chaya Scotney. I was lucky enough to catch this show on its opening night as part of Sydney Fringe at the Seymour Centre, and I can honestly say that Ana’s words stayed with me long after the performance ended.
Our central character is Scattergun: a young Māori woman who has returned to Aotearoa (New Zealand) after having lost a job, and is still feeling the ripples of grief from the loss of her brother and father. The story follows a night in Scattergun’s life, in which she attends the five-year memorial gathering for her brother Rūaumoko. Over the course of the evening, Scattergun takes us on a journey through the streets of her city and the internal landscape of her own mind.
We open with the solo performer, on a darkened, empty stage, using a looping pedal and her voice to create a haunting soundscape. She moves across the space, with an entrancing, child-like energy, using body and breath to draw the audience in. Ana is masterful as a physical performer, and uses movement and voice throughout the show to embody ancestral spirits, and natural elements like wind and volcanoes. As the show progresses, it weaves back and forth between a monologue charting Scattergun’s night, and these surreal vignettes of movement and music.
In the story, Scattergun is mourning for her brother Rūaumoko, who is named after the Māori god of volcanoes, earthquakes and seasons. Ana uses this symbol throughout her work, to explore the connections between past and present, people and land. In one poignant moment, Scattergun has a conversation with her dead brother Rūaumoko, and asks him to assure her that she will be okay.
The performer’s exploration of grief was vivid and moving, as Rūaumoko felt like a character in the space, who the audience could connect to, and care for.
Ana, as Scattergun, also delivers incisive commentary on Indigenous identity and the aftershocks of colonialism. She uses the character of ‘Old Mate’ (a straight, white, wealthy man who grew up alongside Scattergun), to show contrasts of race and privilege. When ‘Old Mate’ asks Scattergun if she is planning to break into the housing market soon, she questions the absurdity of paying for a home on stolen land. But the dynamic between these characters is not completely simple either - Old Mate tells Scattergun that he envies her connection to culture, and that he buys into capitalist thinking because it’s the only culture he’s really got.
Scattergun’s commentary also never feels abrasive - the work has been created with immense care and a sense of openness by both Ana Chaya Scotney and director Stella Reid. I really appreciated Ana’s incorporation of Māori language translations into the script, as these translations invited the audience to share in a piece of her culture.
‘Scattergun: After the Death of Rūaumoko’ is explosive in the best possible way. To watch Scotney perform is to witness something that is both mythic and urgent. I look forward to seeing where this story goes next.