Edinburgh Fringe 2010
A story of survival and tragedy, Noel Tovey, labelled as ‘Australia’s most distinguished indigenous performer’ tells the tragic tale of his own childhood and ultimate salvation.
Little Black Bastard is the name Noel Tovey was given at various points throughout his tough childhood – growing up in the slums of Melbourne in the ’30’s and ’40’s as an Aboriginal boy.
Noel sits before his audience now – in the Gilded Balloon Dining Room – a neat and distinguished looking older man with fair skin and silver hair, and it is hard to imagine the trials we learn he has suffered.
Noel’s story is one of an alcoholic mother, hunger, sexual abuse of a unimaginably frequent nature, prostitution and sleeping rough. However, it is also a tale of redemption – how with the help of some good Samaritans and a lot of determination, someone born into very unlucky circumstances managed to pull themselves out of their situation and become a successful actor and spokesman for indigenous theatre.
It is hard to critically appraise a show such as Noel’s, because with a story like this, there are no words. You can’t review someone’s life – it is what it is, and Noel’s certainly merits a play or an auto-biography (which incidentally he was commissioned to write in 2001.) What you can review however is the way a story is told and presented and whether this does it justice.
My main feeling with Little Black Bastard is that the story could have been told in a more theatrical way. Framing the back of the stage were several flats, bearing pictures from Noel’s life – mainly from his roles in stage shows in the 50’s and 60’s, but also black and white pictures of him as a baby and of his father dealing cocaine in the 30’s. Although the pictures were interesting, they gave the impression of being in a museum, and rather set the tone for the slightly dry delivery.
Obviously Noel is an older performer, and you can’t expect him to leap about the stage ‘re-enacting’ his childhood in a highly physical way- which would of course be entirely unnecessary and inappropriate. However, the few sound effects there were didn’t really convey enough of an atmosphere and the overriding sense was that this was Noel’s extant autobiography, read out onstage.
As a story it is fascinating and shocking in equal measure, and there is no denying that Noel has had a life worth hearing about – but limited to an hour long fringe show I got the sense that this was a potted history, rushed through, and to read the auto-biography would ultimately be more satisfying.