Whose Gonna Love ‘Em? I am that i AM (A Daylight Connection*) – theatre review

Evocative, eviscerating, engaging – these are the hallmarks of a group therapy session in which participants are figuratively filleted. They are encouraged to open up about all their traumas, about their fears and frustrations, their anger and angst, their despair and derision. They beat up on themselves and lash out. They writhe and contort, they repel and support, they scream and cry.

Photos by Jacinta Keefe

Exactly where they are is not clear, but they dig deeply into their collective minds and their colonised hearts. They go back to where it all started, when they were at one with nature, when the air was clean and the skies were clear. They represent tens of thousands of years of pain, which at times is too much to bear. There is much to unpack.

As the audience makes its way into the theatre, it sees a bare, black stage and three black chairs. A guitarist is playing. The improvisational score by smallsound continues through the whole piece. Written and directed by Kamarra Bell-Wykes, Whose Gonna Love ‘Em? I am that i AM is a post-traumatic performance thesis. Profound, powerful and pervasive, it is not for naught that it won the 2021 Patrick White Playwriting Award.

Artists Maggie Church-Kopp, Corey Saylor-Brunskill and Maurial Spearim are given quite the workout, mentally and physically. Their collective energy is tangible … electrifying. They are called to give of themselves and that they most certainly do – uniformly … convincingly. By midway through the performance, they are sweating profusely.

A narrator, whose slow and deliberate voice punctuates the 55-minute work, invites participants in the therapy workshop to take a deep breath and get centred. Easier said than done. They are said to be in a safe space, but what emerges hardly feels safe. The affirmations and the positivity are quickly challenged and then challenged again. The collective is put through the fires of hell.

Whose Gonna Love ‘Em? I am that i AM is visceral, aggressive and demonstrative. A mature work, it deals with sensitive themes – mental health, suicide, racism and intergenerational trauma. It contains sexual references and coarse language. It would be near on impossible to walk away unaffected, as the piece sears deep into one’s soul … just as it should. It is playing in the Tower, at Malthouse Theatre, until 3rd December, 2023.

* Formed last year, A Daylight Connection is a coming together of innovative and visionary theatre-makers, reimagining what First Nations theatre can be. It is intent on taking its unique brand of post-traumatic adventure theatre far and wide.

Alex First

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