Edinburgh Fringe 2010
February the 7th 2009 is known as Black Saturday. This is the day that the inhabitants of Victoria had their lives changed forever when their towns were razed to the ground by bush fires. Now believed to be Australia’s greatest national disaster, this one woman play follows five of the survivors of that day, depicting their lives before, during and after the incident.
There is a simple set of five chairs, evenly spaced on the stage, warmly lit. A woman appears with a basket of clothes. Walking round each chair in turn she sets the clothing that will define the five characters. We are introduced to a teacher, a reporter, and old lady, a six year old boy and the mother of a young man. All survivors of the bush fires.
In turn, each one allows us to peak into their lives before the fire. Their normal everyday lives just like ours. The way we all take everything and everyone for granted. The old lady, Mable, lives with her husband and takes us back to her courting days and how he wooed her. She describes her aging partner as the handsomest man she has ever seen. Aiden, the young boy, is full of the energy of youth, riding his bmx bike with his friends, rolling about in the dirt. Then the reporter, followed by the teacher, and ultimately the mother of the young man. She describes her son as the apple of her eye and confides that once trapped in a violent marriage, he is her saving grace.
As the tale develops, we realise the change from complacent everyday life as the inhabitants receive news bulletins that fail to adequately warn them of the impending doom. We rush alongside the families, packing up our essential belongings, we too must get out. The reporter delivers harrowing tales of families trapped in their cars as they try to flee, only to be suffocated in the searing heat. Mable is separated from her husband who bravely tells her to go and that he will find her later- she never sees him alive again. You become aware of the senselessness of it all. Lives lost, young and old. Houses packed full of memories- all gone. Livelihoods, that took years to establish, no longer existed. Only then does the true horror raise its ugly head that these fires are the work of arsonists. The tale twists here as the mother of the young man reveals that her son is responsible. She must bear the brunt, ostracised by her neighbours, an outcast. Bitterly she sees this as a direct result of her child’s exposure to a broken home and a violent father.
The characters have nothing to return to, but their hope, sense of community and innate survival instincts paint the picture of the what the future could be like and how in memory of their lost friends and relatives they would eventually rebuild.
Ali Kennedy-Scott performs each of these characters with conviction. It is with a draping of a shawl that she becomes the old woman. She stoops, she looks arthritic, perhaps her false teeth don’t fit properly. She removes the shawl and with two steps begins to skip and takes on the persona of a young six year old. With the irregular breathing of the youthfully excited he is bursting to tell us about his day. His recollections of the event are hilarious. For him, this is a big adventure. Kennedy-Scott is a master at these transformations, she flicks her hair free and immediately you feel the sophistication of the media world inhabited by the young ambitious reporter.
The lighting is tastefully subtle and the whole tale responds to beautifully played original piano music by pianist Pat Wilson. The music punctuates the drama, dark when the skies are dark, light when the young boy emerges, the perfect complement to the ever changing faces and body language of Kennedy-Scott. This is a slick, sophisticated piece of theatre, with sharp audio and lighting cues. It successfully blends contentment, fear, grief, wonder and hope. At times it feels like we are almost intruding on these lives but are unable to look away, we have become so attached to the fate of the five.