Theatre review: Mirror’s Edge
“Who am I?” asks Kai (Rebecca Poynton), if internally to herself. An otherwise quintessential Aussie but for her yellow skin, the Melburnian arrives at Lake Tyrrell in the regional town of Sea Lake, angry and embittered by prejudices she has had to endure in a white country. Here, she encounters motel-operator, Leanne (Rachel Shrives), an ocker Australian trying to capitalise on the Chinese tourist-dollar, that has of late been seduced by the lake’s reflective waters and clear sky. Agreeing to a collaborative project to revive the “impossible” place draws not only Kai into an exquisite insight for herself, but (hopefully) also us for the nation as a whole. The unborn future is a much more promising world by the play’s end.
Calling back to mind one’s history, and noting our predicament at a time of unprecedented migration, to imagine a more prosperous and colourful multi-cultural melting-pot, underpins Kim Ho’s new play. This is a poetic piece that tucks today’s xenophobia beneath the desolation of a girl’s identity crisis. Its rigour and resonance go well beyond the country-specific context.
In keeping, perhaps, with the mythical powers of the body of water, the show brings together five distinct narratives across three hundred years into one smooth and fluid intersection.
A wealthy William Stanbridge (Martin Hoggart) in 1851 assures the aboriginal custodians of due respect for their culture and mores upon his acquisition of the land. His domestic help, Aoife (Eleanor Young), falls in love with Lao Ghit (Antonia Yip Siew Pin), a native Chinese panning for gold after losing her son. Xiao Yu (Jo Chen), a Malaysian overseas student in 1966 befriends Jasmin (Lucy Holz), a scholar who goes on to publish a research paper on Aboriginal Astronomy. Castor (Eden Gonford), an indigenous ranger, inspired by Jasmin’s publication vows to safeguard his ancestral territory from “Chinese invasion”. And Kai presents as the juncture in which all the stories converge.
Bickering between the new business partners over the way Kai invariably believes her own kind is somehow better than the ordinary white person makes for rich metaphorical drama, with nuanced allusions to the ever-present stereo-typing of aborigines.
In one scene Lao Ghit relates her heart-wrenching account to Aoife wholly in Cantonese. While this seems to alienate the English-only-speaking members of audience, the move offers a taste of what it feels to be left out and marginalised.
Although Petra Kalive’s direction, like Ho’s writing, has a touch of the scalpel, the staging is tender and funny and steeped in eloquent symbols. The set sparkles as starlight projected on a shimmering backdrop is mirrored on the wet surface, characters sometimes seen behind the screen , as if they’re beyond the sky. There is no palpable change in lighting throughout the 70-minute production, making the jump in (or confluence of) time the stuff of hallucination.
A deft concept, Mirror’s Edge balances the magic of traditional beliefs with the hard, implacable reality we are confronted with. It gently persuades us that no conflict is irreconcilable through creativity and an open mind, not before, however, the quiet contemplation about who we are, but, most of all, can be.