Remember Big hART’s terrific production of “Namatjira” last year?
Now the same team is back with a version of its best-known work, “Ngapartji Ngapartji”.
It’s a unique retelling by creative director Scott Rankin and charismatic actor Trevor Jamieson of the history of Jamieson’s family, whose first encounter with non-indigenous Australia took place during the Maralinga atomic testings of the ‘50s and ‘60s.
I saw a version of the show at the Perth Festival some years ago with the full Ernabella women’s choir on stage, and a Pitjantjatjara language lesson right in the middle.
The show, like Jamieson’s family, has also been on a journey and actor Lex Marinos has been on much of it.
Recently praised for his moving role as the old father, Manolis, in acclaimed ABC drama “The Slap”, Marinos has over the years been a broadcaster on 2JJ, now Triple J, a cult actor in the series “Kingswood Country” and a former director of Sydney Carnivale.
Though a Wagga Wagga boy through and through, he found himself typecast in ethnic parts, even playing the Pakistani role in Buzo’s “Norm & Ahmed”.
“By the 1990s,” Marinos tells me, “I’d just about had it with mainstream theatre.
“The euphoria of 1970s’ new wave had evaporated and the scene had returned to being (I thought) very superficial, frivolous and elitist.”
In good time he met Rankin and took part in his 1992 show involving juvenile offenders in Burnie, Tasmania. Later, he took part in other Big hART productions, including, in 2007, “drive-in” show working with young, single mums.
“I think Scott keeps me around because we share cynical sense of humour as well as a jaundiced attitude to ‘real’ theatre and funding,” he says.
One of the highlights was a visit to Pukatja (Ernabella) in SA to show the community how they had told their story.
“Their approval was very important and gratifying,” he reports. “Performing in the red dirt in the open air was exhilarating… camp fires lit, big moon, kids and mangy dogs running about, singing and laughter… wouldn’t have missed it for quids.”
It is not lost on Marinos that now, after being an “ethnic” actor for years, he is now playing a variety of white men. “I guess he [Rankin] finally realised I am indispensable,” he jokes.
“Ngapartji Ngapartji one”, The Playhouse, July 25-28. Bookings to 6275 2700. For details of adjunct talks, an after-show Q&A, an exhibition and a language workshop visit canberratheatrecentre.com.au