A picture tells a thousand words, but what about the stories that surround a photo?
Of the subject, the photographer, the land it was taken in?
At the start of Brink Productions’ Skip Miller’s Hit Songs, we are shown faces of strangers.
Images of African people are projected onto a blank wall, small and slightly out of focus, and then gradually growing larger and sharpening into high relief. Actors capture these images on white cards and bring these photos forward from the wall.
Each photo represents a different story to be told. Just like it would be impossible to learn the story of every person living in Africa, many of these people remain a mystery.
But through Sean Riley’s beautiful script some of these strangers become familiar to us; people who we could easily befriend, or see some of ourselves in, or in the very least come into sharper focus.
Riley threads together a multi-character narrative of people suspended emotionally between the two worlds of Australia and Africa, and the ripple effect this has on those closest to them.
Skip Miller (Chris Pitman) is a photojournalist and music lover who has been hardened by harrowing times spent working in African war zones. Physically, he has returned to his home town of Adelaide, but he has left his heart and soul behind in Africa, leaving a shell of a man his partner Alison Caldicott (Lizzy Falkland) finds it difficult to connect to. During a particularly powerful scene, physical blocking has Skip and Alison shouting at each other from opposite sides of the stage, representing the continent that stands between them.
Skip’s sense of dislocation is mirrored in the experiences of African refugees in Adelaide. The newly arrived Patience Lugor (Assina Ntawimenya), whose quiet strength covers a painful past, develops a sweet relationship with Skip’s brother, who is needy but means well. The quiet destruction of their relationship from haunting memories and lessons not learned is in its own way as powerful as the fiery blows that Skip and Alison come to.
The production of Skip Miller is evocative and filled with many striking images that stay with you long after the show has finished. Director Chris Drummon and Designer Wendy Todd have used a light, but precise, hand to bring the play to life.
In one scene, shadows of nomadic souls conjure the feeling of hundreds of an entire African community fleeing a horrible fate. In another, the reflection of a pool on the main wall of the theatre makes you feel like you are soaking your feet in the water along with the actors.
The bare stage is covered with vibrant earth, a few crates, and one chair. As Brink did with Harbinger, where stage hands wandered out from the wings to dispense theatre magic, artifice is completely removed. Actors are out in the open as they wait for their next cue to appear on stage. Three musicians (Quentin Grant, Jerome Lyons and Lamine Nanky) are on stage throughout the show, integrating layers of both African and Western music into the narrative. Some of the music was so joyous you felt like dancing on the sandy stage with the actors.
This is theatre with genuine heart. It shows our deep human desire for closeness in our relationships, but how emotional, more so than physical, distance can drive a wedge between us and loved ones. It reminds us of the universal values that people from otherwise disparate cultures can share.
I left wanting to know the stories of the people in the photo collage at the start who remained anonymous to the audience.
My review is also posted on ShoGo.