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Review: The Demon Playhouse at the Sydney Opera House

Review by Nola Bartolo

The Demon is an action-packed piece with a thriller twist, featuring filmic dance theatre and aerial stunts that push the boundaries of magic realism on stage. Co-created by writer Michael Mohammed Ahmad, director Rachael Swain and choreographer Gavin Webber. Racism and Australian History. Unfortunately, these words reflect the reality of what has happened and what continues to occur. Not an easy topic to tackle. The Demon takes this topic on. It is not just an Australian problem yet a global and universal theme when it comes to life on earth.

The Demon presents as a Lynchian physical theatre that reimagines a dark story in the history of White Australia. Drawing on the Chinese, Arab, Anglo-Celtic settler, and Indigenous backgrounds of the creative team, it weaves a surrealist tale for the demons of history that continue to walk amongst us. The action-packed thriller performed by a cast of highly skilled actors and dancers, explores the bond of two detectives who grew up as brother-boys in Bankstown - Arab Australian Jihad (Johnny Nasser) and his Aboriginal Muslim partner Matthew/Muhammad (Kirk Page).

Alliances and divisions of family, faith and culture are tested as they investigate a crime allegedly perpetrated by a Chinese Australian street fighter Wei (Yvonne Huang) and her gang, The Celestials. Wei draws the detectives on a road trip from Western Sydney out west to Burrangong, site of the Lamming Flat Riots in 1861. To solve this mystery, the brothers must confront the landscape and its hidden demons and ask themselves: does a curse inhabit a land or its people?

The set, the lighting and the choreography were all highlights for me. From a visual point of view, it was a success. However, I can’t help but feel that the performance itself and the delivery of the story’s potential just missed the mark. I felt confused and bombarded. It felt like there was just too much going on or perhaps too many stories that were being told at once. The piece was most definitely thought provoking and has been in my thoughts ever since. Was that the point?

What was clear to me was that we all as humans have our own demons. Jihad clearly had his and that was cleverly portrayed. I understand the resentment that he had after his brother was killed by “The Nips” and he couldn’t let that go. In fact, he chased that redemption with much hatred, misogyny and his own level of racism and xenophobia. He struggled with life and used drugs and alcohol as a means of coping. Whereas we see that his partner and long-time friend Muhammad practiced his faith with prayer and action. This coupled with the poetic beauty of Eastern Mysticism reflected well for me the dual nature of human beings. The Jekyll and Hyde effect. That physical and mental manifestation of evil.

I hope that this piece continues to be developed and refined. As there is definitely more to say in this arena. If anything, I really hope that this encourages many more to tackle this topic of racism and xenophobia to stop the corrosive impact of this thread in our world.

Image Credit: Prudence Upton


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