By Anja Bless
Content warning: This review contains mentions of suicide in indigenous communities.
The Honouring is the debut solo performance of Kurtjar dancer, Jack Sheppard. It addresses in a beautiful and meaningful manner, the experiences of trauma and suicide that are reaching epidemic proportions amongst Indigenous communities.
The performance weaves almost effortlessly between dance, dialogue and puppetry, pushing Sheppard to show his skill in storytelling as he explores the importance of ritual, spirituality and acknowledgment of trauma in the passage from life to death.
As you enter the theatre, the first thing you will inevitably notice is the manikin of a man dressed casually in a pair of track pants and a hoodie (though from the ground it appears like a hood, shrouding his face), hanging from the ceiling by a noose.
From this first moment it is clear that this performance will not skirt around the taboos of suicide, there will be no place for euphemisms or metaphors here. Suicide is a harsh reality from the moment the audience walks through the doors, just as it is outside of them.
What appears to be fabric hanging from the ceiling and draping along the back stage like a rock formation, or the earth leaching into the darkness of the black floor, is revealed to be paper as the lights come on. Lighting designer Tom Willis, and the puppeteers behind the screens, use this backdrop to great effect, pairing seamlessly with the performance of Sheppard, interacting with the cascade of his emotive performance.
Sound designer, James Henry, too deserves a mention for his use of soundscapes to match the ebb and flow of the narrative. The audience is drawn into the tension, conflict and turmoil of the piece, only released when Sheppard is also.
Sheppard is a captivating performer, his movement, directed by Rinske Ginsberg, is one of the highlights of the show. Perfectly capturing the battle between the light and the dark, the living and the dead, spirituality and trauma, it is the most evocative aspect of the performance. The puppetry done by Sheppard also deserves praise. His ability to bring the life size manikins to life creates characters that are almost as real and as fragile as his. You sense their presence and feel their departure almost as much as Sheppard himself.
Where the performance stumbles is in the dialogue. Clunky and bordering on the cliché at first, its movement into poetry and prose over the course of the show is a welcome diversion. Compared to the emotive and capturing aspects of the rest of Sheppard’s performance, his clear ability to enthral and move an audience are not utilised enough in the spoken elements.
The Honouring is an extremely important piece at an important time. It does not shirk around the issue of suicide and trauma in Indigenous communities, it faces it head on in a way that is both beautiful and evocative. It tells a tale of the struggle to maintain a grasp on the spiritual in a time when Indigenous communities in Australia are seeing their generational trauma be manifested in a way that leads to such loss and heartbreak. The production team, and Sheppard in particular, should be proud of their ability to utilise their art to explore and share with an audience an issue so close to the lives of many, but one that is continuing to be ignored, at the risk of these lives, by some.
Photo Credit: Gregory J Fryer
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.