Theatre review: From Campfire to Stage Light

A captivating Indigenous life story told through words and music.

Directed by Isaac Drandic, this co-production from JUTE Theatre Company and Didge-Ralia is a yarn about beginnings and belonging, with a campfire to warm and connect you to the red earth and the stars above. More importantly it’s also a journey about framing Aboriginal heritage under the stage lights, keeping alive the embers of culture that may have sadly vanished without those brave enough to champion Indigenous heritage across the world.  

The production’s promotional material includes a poster created by Mike Fuhrimann that features a picture of protagonist David ‘Bindi’ Hudson in ceremonial ochre paint. Superimposed over the top of the image is his totem animal (a wedge-tailed eagle) across the side of his face with the eagle’s eye looking out at the viewer. This striking poster somehow calls to you, telling you not to miss this amazing theatre experience.

The set with its corrugated iron back drop, gives off the quintessential Australian settler look, yet this is not what first draws the eye. The cosy circular set-up of centre stage does beckon to us though. Production designer, Josh McIntosh, should be congratulated on creating a set that is understated and versatile, making the performers shine and allowing both the concepts and tale they’re telling to resonate with the audience.  

Another key element of the production’s design aesthetic and a visual parallel to the oral stories Hudson recounts, are projections which offer a nostalgic look at his and his ancestors’ lives. They show moments of reverence, humour, poignancy and life-changing events. The sum of all these moments were pivotal to making Hudson the man he is today and goes to show that life is measured by all experience, not just a person’s accolades – from the intergenerational trauma of the missions, playing the ‘Yigi-Yigi’ (didgeridoo in David’s dialect) around the world, to meeting his wife at a BBQ after a footy game.   

The lighting by Sam Gibb accentuated the stories shared and helped create a welcoming ambience that are ebbed throughout like the glowing coals of a campfire. These flashes let the projections and Hudson’s charisma take centre stage.

The quality of the musicians on stage was second to none, with Hudson on acoustic guitar and vocals, Nereace on piano, and Nigel Pegrum on percussion, with all three in harmony throughout.

Hudson is a triple-threat performer and he seamlessly transitions between music, movement and acting. Even though Pegrum and Nereace are renowned musicians, there are moments they are called on to become bit characters and it was evident both they and the audience enjoyed the cameos they performed.  

Read: Dance review: Counterpointe

This play has many takeaways, from addressing the wide-ranging impacts of the loss of culture, and leaving with a deeper understanding of the importance to know your ancestral heritage and where you come from. Only once we have these conversations can society hope to move forward in the right direction together.  

From Campfire to Stage Light by David Hudson
with JUTE Theatre’s Kathryn Ash and Cindy Hudson 

JUTE Theatre, Cairns, QLD

Director: Isaac Drandic
Set, Costume and Production Designer: Josh McIntosh
Production Artist: Jedess Hudson
Production Manager and Lighting Designer: Sam Gibb
Projection Designer: Keith Deverell
Sound Designer: Nigel Pegrum
Stage Manager: Sarah O’Neill
Music and Lyrics: Nereace, Nigel Pegrum and David Hudson
Musicians: David Hudson, Nigel Pegrum and Nereace
Cast: David Bindi Hudson, Nereace, Nigel Pegrum

From Campfire to Stage Light will be performed until 16 July 2022

Douglas Robins is an Arts worker in far north Queensland, is fanatical about theatre and believes theatre should always be inclusive to all. He completed a B.A. in Theatre and English at James Cook University, Cairns in 2011. An author of short plays and theatre reviews, an actor, director and president of community theatre company Tropical Arts Inc.