Gillian Clark

BLUE ROOM THEATRE: Based on Peter Goldsworthy’s celebrated novel of the same name, WISH is a profound story, beautifully told.
Playwright and performer Humphrey Bower’s Wish tells of an extraordinary relationship, and is compelling from its opening scene. A visual and aural feast composed of sign language, speech and poignant song, it is based on a novel by Peter Goldsworthy, and co-stars dancer Danielle Micich as its titular character.

“I dreamt in sign language,” says narrator JJ (Bower), the hearing child of deaf parents. An obese divorcee who has returned to live with his parents and to teach sign language at the Deaf Institute, the lonely JJ is soon befriended by two students in his beginners’ class. They are the elderly Clive, world renowned as a leader of the animal rights movement, and his much younger wife Stella, a poet.

Soon after befriending JJ the couple present him with a mysterious proposition: would he be willing to provide private Auslan lessons for their step-daughter? It transpires that their ‘step-daughter’, Wish, is a young female gorilla, rescued by Clive and Stella from a research laboratory. What transpires is a remarkable relationship, and a minefield of ethical and emotional conundrums.

Adapted and directed by Bower, Wish is realised through direct address and signing to the audience, with JJ mimicking the handful of characters he encounters on his way to meeting Wish.

Once in Wish’s presence, the production becomes dialogue driven, the narrative conveyed through sign and speech and hefty sniffing. The effect of JJ and Wish on one another becomes palpable, and what develops is plausible, and very risky.

The staging is neat yet clever, with Bower’s powerhouse performance central to the audience’s engagement; at all times his gestures, and words are sophisticatedly conveyed. Bower shrewdly visualises his direction, and it is a pleasure to see such a distinguished artist at work.

Micich is physically eloquent and mesmerising as Wish, the gorilla, who has hands that “were a different instrument, a different voice”. The live acoustic guitar played by Leon Ewing underscores and compliments the play’s emotional terrain.

With the key ingredients of this theatrical piece secured, we are moved countless times by the beauty of the language, the visual dexterity of Auslan, and the complexity of the play’s themes – issues of an “Auschwitz of primate” and the language of love and death.

Auslan – Australian sign language – is a phrase-based language, which at the time of Goldsworthy writing Wish was threatened by the American Sign Language system, which was taking hold globally. The sensitivity of the hands – “hands are the things you see through” – are central to Auslan, and in this production they are a conduit for the great challenges we encounter in the search for meaning in the world we inhabit.

This profound story is beautifully told, and I encourage everyone to see it. Wish is essential viewing.

Based on the novel by Peter Goldsworthy
Adapted and performed by Humphrey Bower, with Danielle Micich
Live music by Leon Ewing
Lighting and set by Andrew Lake

The Blue Room Theatre
March 29 - April 16
For more details see the production's Arts Hub event listing.

About the author

Gill Clark is an arts hub reviewer based in Perth.