When Belvoir announced The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe as part of their 2013 Downstairs season, it seemed like a bold opportunity to tell the stories of four African women. In reality, The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe is so much more than that. It is a testament to the strength and courage of women in the face of extreme violence and fear.
The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe is theatre at its most fundamental, grassroots state: honest, evocative storytelling. The fact that the survivors of the atrocities spoken about on stage are staring you in the eye in the close confines of Belvoir’s Downstairs space only makes the production more powerful.
Filled with song, dance and stories of the women’s African heritages, the production addresses traumatic content with a delicate touch. It is very funny and quite distressing.
The visual contributions by Mic Gruchy, Justine Kerrigan and Nicholas Rayment are beautiful. The use of projected still and moving images risks being a bit daggy, but this production avoids that problem. One outstanding moment visual and lighting effects portrays the women bathing, and is both beautiful and, in the context, heartbreaking.
The music is effective. It is impossible not to tap along to the beat, and the vocals by Aminata Doumbia are astounding. Sound Designer Steve Toulmin has done an excellent job, although credit must go to the performers for their contributions.
The real achievement of this production, however, does not lie in the technicalities of the show. It lies in the humanity of the stories. The accounts of violence, survival and the anecdotes of life in Africa and Australia create an inspiring and visceral environment.
The timeliness of The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe cannot be overstated. It’s not possible to view the production without considering the recent upheaval of Australia’s asylum policy. As an audience member, you can’t help but wonder: if government members saw this show, would they maintain their hard-line stance on “boat people”, or would they so willing refer to “illegals” in their campaign against people-smugglers and their cargo? It seems unlikely.
The point of the show is not to make a statement about Australian politics, although it is impossible to ignore the obvious local implications. The production is far too delicately woven to linger on something as trivial as local policies in the face of war.
The content of the production is so moving and personal that it would be wrong to give any more of it away. Suffice to say that you will, if only for an hour or two, be transported to a different world. It is a difficult play to sit through without breaking down. It is a difficult play to forget.