Theatre review: Seven Sisters, Perth Festival

The latest WAYTCo production is a rich tapestry of story and self-reflection inspired by our connection to the stars.
Four young women lie in an intimate heap on stage.

For as long as humans have told stories around the campfire, we’ve also stared up in wonder at the stars. But whereas once we explored the mysteries of the cosmos in cave art and in ritual objects of gold and bronze, today we’re just as likely to tweet about a falling star as write a poem about it.

This year’s Perth Festival has the theme of Djinda (the Noongar word for ‘stars’), which is referenced in a number of ways throughout the program, from the genuine star power of Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk to the free outdoor production Djoondal, which utilised drones and lasers to tell a Dreaming story about the creation of the Milky Way on the Festival’s opening weekend.

Another creative response to the theme is seen in Seven Sisters, the latest production from the WA Youth Theatre Company (WAYTCo), which is being staged at multiple venues.

Made in consultation with Noongar Elder Roma Yibiyung Winmar, Seven Sisters is a devised work drawing upon the lived experiences of its participants rather than a literal exploration of the myriad stories about the Pleiades. Skilfully dramaturged so that its separate stories complement one another rather than clash, this elegant and engaging production is co-directed by emerging Noongar/Greek theatre-maker Cezera Critti-Schnaars and WAYTCo Artistic Director James Berlyn, and is performed outdoors, under the stars, at several different locations across the Festival.

Although occasionally earnest, at its best the production is heartfelt and often moving. Subtle physical flourishes, such as shared movements to highlight a sense of connection and togetherness during Louis Neylon-Williams’ macabre yet touching monologue about Pleione and Atlas, enrich the performances, while Levi Widnall’s score, featuring a crackling fire and didgeridoo, also adds subtle emphasis to the proceedings.

Equally assured is the skillful intercutting between Jayda Corunna and Victoire Hemedi’s parallel stories about family, displacement and belonging, ensuring their monologues are compelling knitted together as well as being strongly performed. Jono Battista’s performance is striking and direct, while Makaela Rowe-Fox successfully links a screed about capitalism and light pollution with a reflection on the importance of family.

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Not every sequence lands – a comedic routine mocking the wellness industry performed by Stella Finn is genuinely funny, but feels tonally at odds with the majority of the production – but overall, Seven Sisters offers genuine insights into the hopes and dreams of the next generation of performers, simultaneously reminding audiences of the importance of fellowship and connection regardless of age.

Just as the ancients drew patterns in the sky to create constellations, here the participants create more intimate constellations of their own by sharing their stories with us and one another. In doing so, they draw together a tapestry of glittering narratives that are physically embodied in the production’s final, beautiful moments.

Seven Sisters
WA Youth Theatre Company
A Perth Festival commission
Co-directors: Cezera Critti-Schnaars and James Berlyn
Cultural consultation: Roma Yibiyung Winmar
Composer: Levi Widnall
Composition mentor: Rachael Dease
Performers/collaborators: Jayda Corunna, Lily Baitup, Stella Finn, Rebecca Haywood, Monique Mitchell, Lil Murrell, Makaela Rowe-Fox, Lexie Sleet, Jono Battista, Victoire Hemedi, Levi Widnall and Louis Neylon-Williams
Lighting designer: Jolene Whibley
Lighting mentee: Andy Lands-Robson
Noongar lyrics: Kobi Morrison

10 February – 4 March 2023 at various venues

The writer visited Perth as a guest of Perth Festival.

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on Three Triple R FM, and serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management. Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Living Legend in 2017. In 2020 he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize. Most recently, Richard was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Green Room Awards Association in June 2021. Follow him on Twitter: @richardthewatts