Lynne Lancaster

PARRAMATTA RIVERSIDE: 'Matthina' is a magnificent revival of the 2008 that is sad, compelling and raises social justice issues still as relevant today as over 150 years ago.
This is a magnificent revival of the 2008 that is sad, compelling and raises social justice issues still as relevant today as over 150 years ago. There is a poignant 1842 portrait of the real Matthina in the state gallery in Tasmania and the sounds cape incorporates her diary and letters. Matthina is inspired by a young girl's journey, torn between two cultures and traces the history of a young Aboriginal girl forcibly removed from her land and traditional life, adapted into Western colonial society and ultimately to be left to return to the shattered fragments of her original heritage. Matthina became the archetype of the 'stolen child'. Matthina was born in 1835 on Flinders Island in Tasmania and was removed from her family and traditional culture to live with the Governor (John Franklin) and his wife, Lady Jane. She was moved to an orphanage when the Franklins returned to England and she died at the age of twenty one. The work itself opens in typical Bangarra style showing the attachment to the land and concern for the environment. Matthina's father was of the mutton bird people and there is also an extraordinary sequence where some of the dancers are bats hanging upside down. This emphasises the firm base of indigenous spiritual strength Page strives to bring to his work. We see Matthina among other things learn to wear strange, constricting dresses, socks and shoes, change her hair do, sleep in a cot, listen to Western classical music and learn the 'social graces' while under the watchful eyes of Lady Jane Franklin. It is all so odd and difficult for her! She is comforted by the spirit of her people, who slither eerily out of a chest of drawers, clamber onto the piano and crowd her cot protectively. One of the central themes of this work is that she is never without them and while they can't prevent pack rape and a descent into alcoholic stupor this gives what could be a deeply bleak and depressing piece depth, hope and dignity. One got the feeling that Matthina was really an outsider to both worlds she inhabited. Was she being patronized by the Franklins and mocked by their friends? Elma Kris as Matthina gives a powerful, shattering performance. Patrick Thaiday as Towterer, Matthina's father, is strong and commanding as the leader of his people. Mention must also be made of the fine performances of stunning Yolande Brown as Lady Jane Franklin and Sidney Saltner as Governor John Franklin. There are some exceptionally striking pas de deux /pas de trois for Mathinna and the Franklins. Choreographically there is the blend of traditional Aboriginal dance and contemporary styles that is the Bangarra hallmark. At times I detected a definite Graeme Murphy influence and also that possibly of Matthew Bourne. In quick succession at times most of the cast members became for example waltzing party goers, convict work gang members or orphans tormenting Matthina for example. Peter England's set designs uses simple emblematic objects - a huge reed basket, fire, stylized black and white Western furniture. Jennifer Irwin's costume designs are ravishing and Damien Cooper's lighting dramatic and at times ominous. A deeply moving, powerful and disturbing work. MATTHINA BANGARRA DANCE THEATRE PARRAMATTA RIVERSIDE Running time: One hour 15 mins RIVERSIDE THEATRES, Corner Church and Market Sts, Parramatta DATES: Friday 19 & Saturday 20 February (season closed) TIME: 8pm SINGLE TICKET PRICES: Adults $52, Conc $47, 30 & Under $39

About the author

Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.