Theatre: The Sapphires



It is always good fun introducing non-Australians to the background of the country with the rock, the opera house and the reef. Before a few of us settled in to watch the final performance of The Sapphires at the Barbican I explained that in 1967 there was a referendum where the people of Australia agreed to give the federal government power to formulate laws over Aboriginal people. Previously they were excluded from things such as the census, and the constitution did not allow for the federal government to make laws specifically for Aboriginal people. Surprisingly the programme notes of the show get it wrong and incorrectly refer this to full citizenship rights, but I guess the above description is a bit long-winded and its arguable the referendum was also seen as a symbolic gesture which led eventually led to greater rights.

Against this backdrop is the story of The Sapphires and inspired by writer Tony Briggs's mother and her cousins, who toured Vietnam in 1968 to perform for the troops stationed there. With all these inspiring real life events its a pity the show is more like an extended Kath and Kim episode set to Motown music.



There are laughs, but they are pretty obvious for the most part. Rather than develop a character it seemed easier to crank up the volume to the point of inaudibility. Still it is hard to be annoyed with a show that makes you get up and dance at the end, and everyone was grooving in their own Barbican audience kind of way... I particularly liked the ladies in the front row who resisted getting up until the very end as they had their own internal groove going on that was only obvious by a very subtle head roll...

There also was some great singing when you could hear it. Rising above all this is Casey Donovan, who rose to fame in Australia's Pop Idol a few years back. She does have a comic timing and star power that hopefully will see her back here soon.

Still, it does highlight a number of things about Australia; being a long way from the rest of the world it did have to develop a thriving culture of tribute bands to entertain people, we have some of the most overweight people in the English speaking world, and Australian accents can make anything sound funny if you flatten those vowels and string words together like Naaaahoyethinkyooooraaaalllrooooight...

Future productions outside of Australia should come with a glossary of terms as well, afterall if you did not know a chook was a chicken it could make the mind boggle...

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