‘don't ask what the bird look like’ was soul-stirring.

‘don’t ask what the bird look like’ // Queensland Theatre

‘don’t ask what the bird look like’ was soul-stirring.

Hannah Belanszky’s ’don’t ask what the bird look like’ is an evocative, honest, and captivating new work about family, connection, and First Nations identity.

Following a small family with a history of loss, Belanszky’s text is an understated yet powerful depiction of three wounded characters who are haunted by their past and searching for hope and resolution.

 The play begins with city girl Joan (Matilda Brown) taking a trip to visit her estranged father, Mick (Michael Tuahine), with hopes of connecting closer with country and her ancestors. From the moment the characters step onto the sun-coated landscape, it is clear that the tension of the estranged father-daughter relationship will be as comedic as it is disconcerting.

After a number of failed attempts to inquire about her father’s past and inject herself into his reclusive life, it becomes clear to Joan that Mick has buried himself in his work and refuses to open up about their cultural and family history. However, just when all hope seems lost for Joan and her long weekend visit, in bursts Pattie (Shakira Clanton), a vivacious, bold, and effervescent woman who offers a crass, comedic, yet heartfelt presence that juxtaposes the subdued and strained dynamic between Joan and Mick.

Joan is intrigued by Pattie’s warmth, humour and honesty, with many of her anecdotes supplying a glimpse into her father’s life and the connection to culture and country Joan has been seeking. However, when Joan leaps at the chance to delve into her culture, question the past, and reflect on her developing understanding of her own identity as a First Nations woman, it becomes clear that Pattie and Mick share a more painful and tragic history than ever expected. 

Though Belansky’s text deals with an interwoven combination of tragedy, distrust and conflict, the writing is beautifully balanced with hilarious one-liners, heartfelt conversations, and vulnerable characters that supports the work, and engages its audience, from start to finish.

Co-directors Roxanne McDonald and Lee Lewis find the balance beautifully in the comedic, measured, and mysterious top half of the work, with a complementary fusion of performances that combine to create a multi-faceted dynamic between the three characters.

While Brown brings earnest hope, determination, and an endearing inquisitive nature as Joan, Tuahine uses hints of warmth and gentleness beneath Mick’s otherwise hardened exterior to teeter between aloof distance and loving care.

Clanton’s performance as Pattie is a standout, with prowess in her presence on stage and a brazen attitude that permeates the space from sarcastic jabs to painful confrontations.

The production design of the piece upholds the connections to culture, ancestry, and country with an understated old house, a backdrop of topographic line patterns, ambient sounds of unrelenting flies and the enticing local river, and lighting that denotes the stretches of scorching sun during the day and eerily still and beautiful nights. 

Queensland Theatre’s production of Belanszky’s ’don’t ask what the bird look like’ brings a humorous, intimate, and honest discussion of First Nations identity, family history, and cultural connection to contemporary Australian audiences.

don’t ask what the bird look like’ performs until Saturday the 9th of September at Queensland Theatre. For more information visit their website.

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