© 2019 by Henry Thornton. 

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Barbara and the Camp Dogs

December 10, 2017

Barbara and the Camp Dogs

Director: Leticia Cáceres

Written by Alana Valentine and Ursula Yovich

Ursula Yovich stars in 'Barbara and the Camp Dogs'.  Image courtesy of Daniel Boud

 

Barbara and the Camp Dogs’ was a play I so wanted to find excellent. One of the last songs of the night said it all, ‘Let Love In’ and was sung by a hell-bent young indigenous women ‒ Barbara (played by Ursula Yovich) ‒ who appeared to have experienced every casualty that could befall her race, sex and age. Damaged and dysfunctional parents (and lining up to be a repeated generational problem), unfair arrests, separation from siblings when very young, substance abuse and, of course, all the psychological by-products including abandonment issues and low self-esteem.

 

The realisation of this theatre piece did not quite live up to its conceptual and political potential for me mainly because of grubby dialogue, frequently more vulgar than a Donald Trump reference to a woman’s anatomy. I know these frequent references were played for laughs, but I felt they took away from the multitude of social messages also delivered from the mouths of two feisty and intelligent Aboriginal girls (‘Barbara’ and ‘René’ played by Elaine Crombie and Ursula Yovich), who were the stars of the night. 

 

The narrative was realistic. The play took you on a journey from Sydney to Darwin, the two young girls going to the bedside of their dying mother (surrogate mother in the case of Barbara) in Darwin Hospital. Along the way you come to understand why the wild and wilful ‘Barbara’ has inflicted so much pain on both herself and those she loves.

 

The musical side of 'Barbara and the Camp Dogs' is central to the work. The stage set accommodated a band set-up much like a live performance in a grungy pub; Yovich and Crombie singing like earthy angels.  

      

The disappointing element of the vulgar dialogue in 'Barbara and the Camp Dogs' aside, its important message resounded loudly and forgave a handful of other compositional sins. A ‘sorry’ coming from Barbara to her family for her thoughtless and destructive behaviour near play's end  made the audience feel both humbled and enlightened.

 

Barbara and the Camp Dogs

Belvoir Theatre

until 23 December

 

And back to Henry.

 

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