Reviews, Stage, Theatre

Title and Deed review (Belvoir, Sydney)

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As the audience enters Belvoir’s intimate Downstairs Theatre, a man stands with his back to the back wall, shuffling slightly, and looking around at those assembling before him. Eventually the lights go down and the man, Jimi Bani, explains that he is “not from here”.

Over the next 70 minutes of American writer Will Eno’s monologue for a “slightly foreign man”, he explains his experiences in our place, and his experiences in the place where he’s from. He’ll never be “from” here, because that’s how that all works. But he’s here now.

While the place where he’s from seems not dissimilar to ours in many respects, there are some aspects that are completely foreign: courting rituals, for example, are rather different, and involve many more musical instruments.

But there are some fundamental things we share, including the experience of life and death, and the grief that grips us as we face great loss.

Eno is often praised as the heir to Beckett’s existential throne, and while they share stylistic similarities, and both find joy in suddenly subverting a sentence and an audience’s expectations, Eno’s writing doesn’t have the razor-sharp edge of Beckett at his best. There’s no doubt that this play finds its depth in the end — and this production certainly does so — but there are moments, when it’s reaching for wit, that it feels more like the work of a Beckett fanboy than a genuinely great playwright.

The genius of this production comes in Jada Alberts’ decision to have Bani play the man at its centre, and in Bani’s gorgeously drawn performance itself. The piece was originally written for Irish actor Conor McPherson, but Bani, an Indigenous man from the Torres Strait Islands, performs the piece in his Australian accent.

The experience of being an outsider and disconnected from one’s culture is magnified with Bani in the role. He’s full of a spritely energy as he asks the audience not to hate him, doing all he can to endear himself to the “clump” of people assembled to hear his story.

Occasionally, Bani’s performance is just a little too warm for the more bitter and disenfranchised side of the character. But there’s undeniable power in watching Bani’s hope shine through in circumstances which could defeat a person.

With Alberts and Bani driving this performance, Eno’s piece becomes a very impressive piece of indigenous theatre with some universal truths at its core.

[box]Title and Deed is at the Downstairs Theatre, Belvoir until November 6.

Featured image by Brett Boardman[/box]

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