Poised to explode

Jeremy Eccles: Train Dancing, Red Dust Theatre of Alice Springs

Red Dust Theatre’s first ever production wasn’t part of the original Sellars’ conception for the Adelaide Festival—but it well might have been. For it offers a no holds barred portrait of Black and White relations in Mparntwe (Alice Springs) with a rich vein of metaphor, poetry and song. Steve Berkoff goes up the Alice! But it has a discontinuous narrative that never quite stands up, and a cast that’s young in performance and don’t quite deliver on the promise of Watts’ text.

Throughout, the train is a vital image. It’s the dragon that the young Black Ulysses sets out to kill; it’s a comedic element (as in The Career Highlights of the Mamu) at which ineffectual spears are thrown; it’s the Rainbow Serpent of the White Man’s Dreaming; and, most important of all, it’s the driving, masculine force that gives train-driver Ed, the White villain of the piece, his power. So why symbolise the train with a wheelchair—the ultimate image of disablement?

The use of a name like Ulysses, of course, raises certain expectations. But his role in the play seems not to be the endless journeying as punishment by the gods of the Greek original, but the pursuit of Ed—corruptor and brutaliser of his daughter Violet, Ulysses’ only beloved. Ulysses might succeed in rescuing Violet from the River (the notorious, dry Todd riverbed—another strong image in the play), if only he has time. For it’s there that Mparntwe’s castoffs (including Ed’s wife Molly) go for the nirvana of booze and sweaty, indiscriminate sex that briefly allow them to forget the pain of living. But will he get there before the rains come to wash the town’s detritus away? Or will he be fatally distracted by the hunting of Ed?

And are we distracted from Watts’ metaphysics by Hodder’s lively rapping and Nampatjinpa Castle’s raw balladeering? There’s a rich brew here which is poised to explode. I wish it well in finding the balance that will light its fire.

Train Dancing, Red Dust Theatre of Alice Springs, writer Michael Watts, director Craig Matthewson, performers Steve Hodder, Jacinta Nampitjinpa Castle, Roger Menadue, Barbara Saunders, Space, Adelaide Festival Centre, March 3-9.

RealTime issue #48 April-May 2002 pg. 6

© Jeremy Eccles; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2002