The State Theatre Centre
Saturday, September 20, 2014
Yirra Yaakin has been celebrating its 21st year in 2014, and wraps up the season with a knock-out production of David Milroy and Geoffrey Narkle’s King Hit, directed by Kyle Morrison. King Hit premiered in 1997 by Yirra Yaakin, and it’s now making a triumphant return in the courtyard of the State Theatre Centre under a big top circus tent. The tent is the perfect setting for this true story of Geoffrey Narkle, “The Barker Bulldog,” who spent time as a touring tent boxer throughout Western Australia.
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Narkle’s story is brought to life by a wonderful quartet of actors, with Clarence Ryan in the lead as Geoffrey Narkle, and Karla Hart, Maitland Schnaars and Benj D’Addario as supports in multiple roles. Although he’s been a working actor in television and film for years, this is Ryan’s stage debut, and he is a natural. He does some really exceptional work in this role, giving a performance that’s emotionally centered and easy to connect with. He’s generous with his scene partners and with the audience, so here’s hoping he keeps being offered plenty of good stage work.
Ryan is fleetfooted and wiry, enabling him to carry off this fighting spirit that seemed to get Narkle through all the pain and separation he experienced in his life. Fight Choreographer Andy Fraser takes full advantage of the physical disparities between Ryan and Schnaars in his fight scenes, working in plenty of slapstick and some well-timed chaos. This is obviously an essential element to the piece, and everyone including the audience gets into the action, but it also helped to regain pace that flagged from time to time.
Among the supports, Karla Hart gives a loving, feisty, and sometimes mischievous performance as she tackles different personas around Geoffrey’s life. She and Maitland Schnaars find their anchor characters in Geoffrey’s parents, and the trio seem to be full of genuine affection for each other which makes the story come alive in a tangible way. Schnaars is rock solid on scene, and a steady presence throughout the story. Benj D’Addario has a chance to play with some different accents in his character work, and adds a lively energy to the piece.
The design elements inside the big top are top-notch; designer India Mehta has created a dusty, textural circus tent with an earthy touch. The floor is covered in a patchwork of what looks like burlap, and the playing area is encircled by a thick straw rope. Slung from four posters in each corner of the stage are strings of incandescent lights, which, along with the footlights, add a beautiful rustic glow to the space, thanks to designer Jenny Vila. Clint Bracknell has put together a fantastic soundtrack of music from the period; the songs he’s chosen are evocative without supplanting or repeating the narrative.
Director Kyle Morrison does some creative staging with very minimal props and set pieces, allowing the actors to work their magic as storytellers. He’s maintained a tone of empathy for this troubled man, but he also allows the audience to draw their own conclusions about the injustices carried out during the Stolen Generations. Narkle’s life story provides an excellent window into Western Australia’s troubled policies with respect to Aboriginal people; it’s a window that reflects very clearly that there still exists a huge need for Aboriginal stories like this to be told far and wide.