FIRE @ The Blue Room Theatre
Wednesday, July 7, 2021
Ebony McGuire and Kalyakoorl Collective’s FIRE has been dampened and relit a couple of times this year due to snap COVID lockdowns (its first public iteration at Fringe World was cut short), but the show is now well and truly burning bright at The Blue Room theatre just in time for NAIDOC week celebrations. An intimate exploration of sisterhood, culture and memory, FIRE invites us to experience how two estranged sisters reconnect and repair broken family bonds.
Ebony McGuire (Lyss) is both the show’s writer and one of its three performers alongside Nadia Martich (Holly) and Christopher Moro (Josh). McGuire and Martich (choreographer), two of Kalyakoorl Collective’s founders, play sisters Lyss and Holly who we meet through dance at the top of the show. The dance accompanies a poem about the djitti djitti (Willy Wagtail) that speaks about family and heart, and recurs at the end of the play, encircling the piece in meaning that is tied to the stories from this Noongar boodjar.
Dr Richard Walley explains that in some family stories, the djitti djitti can lure you away from “the circle of firelight,” into the bush and the darkness, but other stories about the bird, like the one told by Noongar Elder Janet Hayden in her family, tell of how the djitti djitti is a messenger and a mischievous tormentor. There may be more than one way to understand how McGuire and Martich have chosen to frame the play with words and movement of this little bird, but like any family lore, it may have a meaning that is special to one of their own families.
This speaks to exactly what McGuire achieves with FIRE; she is able to successfully straddle the line between the specific and the universal in her storytelling. While Lyss and Holly are First Nations women with unique perspectives of their own, their relationship, their hearts, and their reactions are universally tangible. McGuire fleshes out her characters by embedding this family lore into their conversations and arguments, giving them a shared language of memory and heart. This helps bring us closer to them, giving us ways to reflect on how our own family relationships are mirrored in this fictional one.
McGuire’s Lyss is nervous, anxious and full of worry; this plays well against Martich’s Holly, a somewhat impenetrable force whose smile often belies the intent of her words. She is frequently mischievous behind that smile, but when challenged, her smile becomes a shield to deflect her sister’s arrows. There is plenty of spoken and unspoken tension for Josh (Moro) to cut through when he enters the scene, and his presence provides awkward relief for the sisters, and comic relief for us onlookers. The trio strikes a nice balance when they’re all in the room together, much to the credit of director Sian Murphy and these confident performers.
FIRE provides ample evidence of this young playwright’s emerging strong voice, one that weaves culture, heart and keen observations about human behaviour and emotion into a valuable portrait of sisterhood.
Photos by Tashi Hall