Civil rights and wicked humour


Ledger Theatre, Perth,

May 15



The Line is a collaboration between Co3 artistic director Raewyn Hill and associate artist Mark Howett, with dance director Erynne Mulholland.

It stems from a covenant that ended in 1954 prohibiting most Aboriginal people access to the City of Perth after 6pm.

The battle lines created on stage makes viscerally human and universal the soulless law-makings of history.

Accompanied by ominous rumblings, on a vast, misty stage hang seven swings, their chains stretching high into the rafters. Aided by Howett and Chloe Ogilvie’s haunting lighting, the swings prompt thoughts of people manacled in heavy neck-chains or lynchings.

Sitting silently on these swings or dancing between them, the superb Andrew Searle, Katherine Gurr and Ian Wilkes fight, shout, hug, implore and propel each other through space and time in a riveting display of strength, intensity and conviction – a constant in Hill’s choreography.

A folk-like, galloping motif precedes bouts of fighting and intersperses close-bodied, gripping duets and trios where the head is often hugged or forced down or the eyes covered. Gurr is lifted and assaulted and in turn assaults. Her demise, when it comes, is extended in its death throes but exquisitely performed.

The men are aptly clothed in contemporary suits and tan leather shoes, and Gurr is dressed in a tight frilled dress and heels.

Howett has the enviable talent of being able to combine salutary lessons in story telling with a wicked sense of humour.

Into the furore come sections of slow-motions slapstick, recalling black –and-white silent films with the Chaplinesque motifs of exaggerated facial reactions, of unintended recipients in the way of a fist.

Eden Mulholland, on piano, guitar and drums, and James Crabb, on classical accordion and drums both of them singing, at times join the fray, the music fraught, passionate and satiric.

The most outstanding moment is the brilliant production belongs to Wilkes speaking in is Whadjuk Noongar tongue this, tall, fine-figured man enacts his people’s woe in a sublime solo created by Hill’s accurate reading of his talent, blending sharp Aboriginal movement with contemporary Western dance. It moved me close to tears.