Theatre review: The Demon

A dark look at how racism has evolved through the ages.

The OzAsia Festival has become one of the most popular events on South Australia’s arts calendar, drawing masses of visitors into the city, and The Demon by Michael Mohammed Ahmad is a topical production for the event.

Exploring the theme of ingrained racism in Australia, it uses dark humour and physicality to tackle the tough topic.

The play opens with a very bare setting – with a single large cloth the only backdrop.

Onto this plain panorama walks a young Asian girl, who sets up an incense shrine at the front of the stage and she performs a slow and eye-catching dance.

But her serenity is short-lived, as she is pulled off the stage and her peaceful backdrop is replaced with a sign blazening the words ‘No Chinese’.

From here, we slip into the past, and onto the stage comes an Asian couple, who are working the Victorian minefields during the infamous Lambing Flat Riots of 1861, a time where extreme violence erupted against Chinese gold miners.

They too are dragged off the stage and the violence inflicted upon them is played out in silhouette.

From this dark era of Australia’s history, we suddenly jump to the present, where we are introduced to young streetfighter Wei (performed by Yvonne Huang in a standout performance).

Wei is soon being pursued by two detectives, an Arab Australian and an Aboriginal Muslim, who have their own demons around race to deal with.

Read: The Demon: The devil you know

During this scene, the stage is transformed with scaffolding, which is used to good effect as the performers travel across the metal in great physical feats. From here, we follow the detectives as they debate race issues across an array of backdrops, including a road trip through outback Australia.

Throughout the performance, the sound backing is kept to the basics, with a pounding beat used to add a menacing tone. The combination of martial arts, strong choreography and outstanding performances means that the audience is kept on the edge of their seats at all times.

The Demon by Michael Mohammed Ahmad
Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre

Concept: Rachael Swain and Tony Ayres
Director and Producer: Rachael Swain
Choreographer: Gavin Webber
Composer: Nick Wales
Sound Design: Bob Scott
Designer: Stephen Curtis
Lighting Designer: Daimon Cooper
Script Editor: Tony Ayres

Script Editor (First Nations Content):Samantha Hogg
Script Editor (Chinese Female Content):Janette Chen
Cast: Johnny Nasser,Kirk Page),Yvonne Huang, Joshua Thompson, Johnas Liu

The Demon was performed from 20-22 October as part of the OzAsia Festival.

Paula Thompson is a journalist who has written for The Advertiser, SA Weekend and the Stock Journal newspapers. She is now freelancing