Tammy Anderson: a way to tell secrets

Diana Klaosen

Tammy Anderson, I Don't Wanna Play House

Tammy Anderson, I Don’t Wanna Play House

Tammy Anderson, I Don’t Wanna Play House

If, regrettably, domestic violence is now known to be widespread and not confined to any particular socio-economic group, it is still unlikely to be considered the stuff of successful comic theatre. Tammy Anderson’s remarkable two-hander, I Don’t Wanna Play House, takes this very difficult topic and, thanks to engrossing storytelling, deft characterisation and highly professional production values, creates an engaging and often wryly amusing work.

I Don’t Wanna Play House is essentially Anderson’s dramatised memory of a childhood and adolescence marked and marred by male violence, most notably at the hands of her “battling” mother’s various boyfriends.

Much of these memories were, formerly, suppressed and Anderson reveals “I was watching my children playing in the backyard one day, jumping on the trampoline, laughing and running around, and my daughter asked me to give her a ‘whizzy.’ It all came back to me. Secrets. Secrets. Secrets. I put pen to paper and started writing about these secrets and I wrote pages and pages and pages.”

As Director John Bolton explains, “During a class in grotesque theatre Tammy beckoned the whole group with her finger and whispered ‘Come here.’ It was a short simple moment but what lay behind it was apparent to everyone. There was a communal exhalation, a deep silence and a desire to know ‘what next?.’ A year later I read Tammy’s first writings and knew I would like to direct her piece; here was the what next? in its most raw and honest state. Tammy’s courage and ability to play with events that would ‘do most people in’ has been incredible to witness. Her joy, humour and lightness have continued to shine through a piece which explores some of the most difficult aspects of our existence…”

Having premiered at the CUB Malthouse in Melbourne earlier this year, the work had its Tasmanian premiere at the Peacock Theatre in the Salamanca Arts Centre in late September. Anderson is a Launceston-born Palawa (Aboriginal) woman who has lived in Melbourne for the past 14 years. She is a graduate of the Swinburne University Indigenous Performing Arts Course and has participated in numerous creative development workshops for Ilbijerri Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cooperative, Playbox and Melbourne Workers’ Theatre. Thus, she brings a wealth of creative experience and artistic integrity to I Don’t Wanna Play House.

The work sees Anderson describing and frequently incarnating the characters of her often disordered childhood; the travels to and from “the mainland”—so typical for Tasmanians looking for a new start; her family’s constant search for stability; the struggle to get an education and an apprenticeship—and all with the steadfast figure of her grandmother (with her well kept household and well loved pet dog) as the one constant to return to. Anderson recounts her life’s events in a combination of the matter-of-fact and sardonic; nothing is glossed over or glamorised. She strings together a series of anecdotes, tales of triumph and near-defeat, deftly switching character from this character. She has an extraordinary knack for portraying, with a new vocal inflection or a distinctive gesture, a range of very different characters and emotions. In this outstanding performance, she lays bare her own story, telling it without self-pity, but with plenty of vitality and vigour. As in the best theatre, she makes a very particular story seem utterly universal.

The stark Peacock Theatre, famously hewn from a natural rock-face, is expertly lit by Michelle Preshaw, but is otherwise unadorned by sets or props. Anderson’s co-performer, Don Hopkins, plays something of a second fiddle to her tour-de-force—his role is to provide the occasional country song that punctuates or steers the narrative. And while this music is just right in the context of a young Palawa woman’s journey to selfhood, it is something of an aural backdrop.

It is not so often that a performance receives a standing ovation; for its Hobart opening night I Don’t Wanna Play House received this spontaneous tribute, recognition of a moving tale told honestly, bravely and with much good humour—and of an almost faultless, brilliantly versatile lead performance from the very same woman who had lived and survived the indignities portrayed. There is some talk of a return season of this most exciting, gutsy play. Not to be missed.

I Don’t Wanna Play House, writer/performer Tammy Anderson, director John Bolton, Salamanca Arts Centre, Playbox & Women Tasmania, Peacock Theatre, Hobart, Sept 18-22

RealTime issue #46 Dec-Jan 2001 pg. 38

© Di Klaosen; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2001