by Tony Briggs.
Barbican Theatre Silk Street EC2Y 8DS To 12 March 2011.
Tue-Sat 7.45pm Sun 5pm Mat Sat 2pm.
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.
TICKETS: 0845 120 7550.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 2 March.
Singers from Down Under take over the show.
Sliding down front on the Barbican stage, a platform brings the music, body and Soul, right up to the audience. Both the girls at their mikes and the boys in the band behind provide a terrific Motown concert, the four members of the Sapphires decked in fine, feathery costumes for a sustained climactic finale.
They may be from Australia but they know the music’s Black American idiom. Because, as they’ve repeatedly told us, and each other, they’re Black Australians. And when writer Tony Briggs’ parents were young themselves, that meant disadvantage. The cheap furniture suggests that, like the expectation they’ll sleep onstage because hotels won’t have them when they’re touring.
But the music gives them purpose. Plus the everyday energy these Soul sisters put into quarrelling with each other. For before that concluding concert, there’s been a play, of sorts, to kind-of celebrate the characters Briggs has drawn from his family.
There’s no doubt these women can sing. But can they act? It’s harder to say, for neither the script nor the production from Belvoir, and Black Swan Theatre Company (based respectively in Sydney and Perth) allow or expect more than the predictable and clichéd responses provided here as an incompetent, White promoter takes the fledgling group touring to American troops in Vietnam. There, he takes a fancy to one of the sisters, while another keeps bumping into her soldier ex-lover, and a third reveals she’s pregnant.
Whether the lover’s repeated appearances, or the mother-to-be’s bouts of vomiting, or another sister’s meetings with a US helicopter pilot (who rather optimistically promises to take her away from the war-zone while he’s hanging upside-own, unable to free himself from his parachute) are meant to be funny isn’t clear. They certainly don’t risk twitching the mouth-muscles here. In fact, as running gags they barely hobble.
There’s more success with the Vietnam 14-year old, Joe, whose continued search for money and return to his village has a serious edge. Generally, though, the contrived and emotionally simplistic action makes John Godber seem an icon of multi-layered subtlety. It’s when they sing, this show takes wing.
Jimmy: Jimi Bani.
Cynthia: Casey Donovan.
Kay: Ngaire Pigram.
Gail: Lisa Maza.
Julie: Megan Sarmardin.
Dave: Oliver Wenn.
Joe: Aljin Abella.
Robbie: Markus Hamilton.
Director: Neil Armfield (original Director: Wesley Enoch).
Designer: Richard Roberts.
Lighting: Trenty Suidgeest.
Sound: Tom Brickhill.
Musical Director: Peter Farnan.
Choreographer: Tony Bartuccio.
Costume: Tim Chappel.
Associate director: Wayne Blair.