Review by Emily Smith
In the audience for Perth Festival and WA Youth Theatre Company’s show Seven Sisters we are appropriately positioned under the stars outside the Subiaco Arts Centre, spread on blankets on the grass. The seven sisters of the story, known as the Pleiades, are just visible over the gum tree behind us, setting a reverential tone for the stories shared on stage.
The show is a response to the indigenous story of the constellation, the starry sky apparently inspiring each actor’s personal reflection on their own lives. Rather than having a narrative or characters, the cast gather round a campfire made of fairy lights, and each share an anecdote or perspective to the sound of crackling kindling.
Not all the stories shared are personal, though. The story of Pleone and Atlas, two of the stars in the constellation and, in the myth, the parents of the Pleiades, is a haunting tale, told captivatingly by Louis Neylon-Williams. Totally different in tone was the joke yoga retreat for vulval connection, including deep dive kegels and a menstrual sync-up exercise, which had us giggling from the get-go.
The more personal stories were touching in their vulnerability, but only having a few minutes for each, and some overlapping each other, made it hard to make any real connection with the speaker before they sat back down at the campfire. The stories themselves also straddled the line between specificity and vagueness, like the speakers couldn’t decide if they wanted to be relatable to all or share their deep truth, so they tried for both. However, plenty of them were deeply emotional and the cast should be commended for mastering their delivery.
Director Cezera Critti-Schnaars welcomed us to the show and the land we were on, and also announced that due to a technical issue the lighting for the show could not happen as intended. To their credit they went ahead with the show anyway, and while I’m sure the lighting design would have added to the show immensely, it didn’t feel like anything was missing and the company pulled it off well. One lighting element that did work was the fairy lights that reflected the stars above us, first as headdresses, then the campfire, and then creating a stunning visual display during the blackout at the end. It was beautiful to watch.
Levi Widnall’s soundscape of melodic background music perfectly complemented the stories told. Without pushing for attention, the gentle guitar or tinkling synth instruments set the tone for each actor’s moment, and the song at the end, sung acapella and partly in a round, was gorgeously moving. The Noongar Lyrics by Kobi Morrison that harmonized across the outdoor space made it a performance that reverberated through the space and will stay with me for a while.
For a show about the stars the connection was tenuous at best, and forced at worst, but there really is something about sitting under the starry night sky to watch live theatre that sends shivers down one’s spine. WA Youth Theatre Company have created a unique show in collaboration with Perth Festival, and their commitment to moving it between venues is impressive. Seven Sisters is showing at its final venue in the State Theatre Centre on the 3rd and 4th of March.