By Rosie Niven
In Yorta Yorta country, six Indigenous women gather together at a campsite, filled with memories and questions about their history. Invited by matriarch Neecy (Roxanne McDonald) with little explanation, each woman returns to Country to reconnect with the land and explore her own heritage. In the midst of this exploration, what unfolds is a powerful examination of identity and belonging, and sparks a discussion about what it means to be an Aboriginal woman in modern Australia.
Written by playwright and recipient of the 2015 NSW Aboriginal Art Fellowship Andrea James, Winyanboga Yurringa returns to the stage after coming to fruition at Belvoir in 2012 and was created to address the needs and concerns of Aboriginal women today. A proud Yorta Yorta woman, James spoke with numerous other Aboriginal women in the creation of this play, and she notes that while each story had individual nuances, all of the women demonstrated an all-powerful connection to people and land. What makes James’ writing so successful is that we are offered an insight into this unified connection while also examining an incredibly varied cross-section of the experiences of Aboriginal women. From Neecy’s attempts to share cultural stories with her family, Chantelle’s (Dubs Yunupingu) understanding of womanhood, and Carol’s position as the only Aboriginal woman in senior management at a museum, to Margie’s (Dalara Williams) struggle to be open about her sexuality, Jadah’s (Tuuli Narkle) struggle with her mixed-race identity, and Wanda’s (Angeline Penrith) anger at the privilege that comes with her cousin’s light skin, there is no single Aboriginal experience. It is refreshing to see each of these women with fully enriched stories and experiences, and empowering to see such positive representation of a range of female friendships and relationships.
Led by Director Anthea Williams, each actor brings a vivacious energy to the stage, jumping quickly from loving banter to needling each other. Their energy becomes contagious, eliciting laughter from the audience as we take joy in the all too relatable sibling rivalry. There were a few moments where this flow halted, and some storylines were less effectively explored than others, but the cast quickly navigated these scenes.
As well as a beautifully cohesive cast, the design team for Winyanboga Yurringa should be commended for their ability to completely immerse us in the world of these six women. Isabel Hudson’s set is visually captivating, the curves of the sand dunes and rocky ledges wrapping around the women as if to welcome them back with open arms. Most memorable is a moment when Jadah stands upon the ledge and questions her identity, while golden sand slowly cascades around her and brings her back to the land. Combined with Verity Hampson’s dynamic lighting and Steve Francis and Brendon Boney’s mix of guttural and naturalistic sound design, the land feels as human as each of these women.
Winyanboga Yurringa is a beautiful work about identity and reclamation that takes our hand and welcomes us to Country in a celebration of Aboriginal identity and female relationships. Bringing to the forefront voices that are often left on the sidelines, both cast and crew have created a work that makes it clear why it has been brought back to the Belvoir stage.
Photo Credit: Brett Boardman
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.