'Burb superstars

Keri Glastonbury

Shelia MC Eila, Rasheda Eda MC, Inna Thigh

Shelia MC Eila, Rasheda Eda MC, Inna Thigh

Shelia MC Eila, Rasheda Eda MC, Inna Thigh

Parking at the Opera House always makes me feel like an interloper, neither old money nor nouveau riche. But since The Studio opened, strident new vectors see me spiralling down into the underground carpark more often.

Tonight, The Studio is transformed into Gymea train station for Inna Thigh: The Sista She Story. Looking at the eerily unpopulated set is like discovering terra suburbia in the land atop Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree. There’s just the station bench, turntables and graffiti. And because the genre is hip hop theatre, because you’re not quite sure what that will be, because of the ‘fringe’ and ‘comedy’ expectations, because it’s a girl thing, you have the precognition that this might be really fun. Like something you’d usually see in a less auspicious location: a scratch event or a night at the Sly Fox, but with the added bonus of no smoke and a perfect view of the stage. There’s definitely a sense of curiosity in the audience. What will the night throw up? As the lights go down Shelia MC Eila, Rasheda Eda MC and Busty Beats (with biceps to die for) form their huddle.

From the moment Sista She begin performing you’re hooked. It is like a hip hop rock eisteddfod, the kind of old-school joy you haven’t felt since high school. It’s all so 80s, with sun visors and bum bags to boot. Live autobiography delivered by the consummate raconteurs of the next generation. Sista She list their influences as everything from Queen Latifah to John Farnham: listen up yo’ peeps “you’re the voice, try to understand it.”

Gymea station is where Sutherland Shire (Sheila) meets Campbelltown (Rasheda), a reminder that the idea of the suburbs as Anglo enclave is now something of a nostalgic dream. Everywhere, that is, except in the Lord of the Rings-sounding ‘The Shire.’ At one point there’s a mock battle between Sheila, “Miss Whitey White Sutherland Shire”, and bi-racial Rasheda (or “chigger” from chink/nigger); a searing moment for all its comedy. In this show, whiteness is not invisible; it’s constantly being negotiated in terms of cross-cultural friendship, as Rasheda, from a refugee family, clearly delineates some of the differences between Sheila’s racial experiences and her own. The conventions of hip hop are employed to broker both difference and inclusivity, and add a live culture from beyond the theatrical framework one not so steeped in Anglo-centricity.

Sheila MC Eila and Rasheda Eda MC are supported by the Sista She 3: Busty Beats (Rasheda’s sister), DJ Jonah and Tom Tom to-da-B on double bass, perhaps best known for their Triple J hit What R Yooze Girls Doin’?. Accosted at Gymea station by the ubiquitous sleaze bag, they’re responsible for that catchy riff “Have ya got a big dick?”.

Inna Thigh was developed by The Studio and Brisbane Powerhouse under the direction of seasoned comedy professional and choreographer Chrissie Koltai. Sista She put together a series of simple but infectious routines. It’s a tried and true tale, parodying the path to fame (familiar from countless films like Flashdance and 8 Mile), made all the less pretentious by the unabashed repetition of the telling. Soon we are waving our hands in the air on demand and abjectly fawning over the 2 charismatic MCs.

Sheila is irrepressibly theatrical, delivering a stellar Girl from Ipanema in a made-up language. Rasheda is more of a wordsmith, with quirkier references and a wider range of moods and broods. This is better than Kath and Kim (though they also speak in a suburban idiom) and you hope that a comedy career will not see them end up on TV like Merrick and Rosso or Ali G. Right now they are on that cusp between subculture and commercialism, and so hot (“like Bikram yoga”) I want to believe a whole new form of superstardom might yet be born for these gals.

The finale is the Sista She anthem Inna Thigh, for all the women out there who wear out a pair of corduroys each winter (Hey, that’s me!). It’s delivered to the sound of live scratching and rubbing, for there’s a fraction too much friction. YEAH.

Sista She, Inna Thigh: The Sista She Story, director Chrissie Koltai, performers Sheila MC Eila, Rasheda Eda MC, music Busty Beats, DJ Jonah, Tom Tom to-da-B; The Studio, Sydney Opera House, May 18-24

RealTime issue #62 Aug-Sept 2004 pg.

© Keri Glastonbury; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2004