The Unstoppable, Unsung Story of Shakey M: Rowena Hutson,’Parky’ and Joy. (Sydney Fringe F Theatre Review)

I pause and ask myself about the role of art in my life regularly, but I almost never stop to ask myself why I laugh and what makes me laugh. Aside from that nervous snigger we apply in awkward social situations (like every time I’m with my family).  We have lots of “scientific reasons” for why we laugh that include the release of certain endorphins, relaxation and release from stress etc, but why are some of us so funny?  Why do some of us seek humour out more than others?  What is the difference between that which gives us a huge belly laugh and the just-slightly-off-bordem laughter we aim at television programs?

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In the small blurb at the front of the program for The Unstoppable, Unsung story of Shaky M, Rowena Hutson gives us a brief one minute version of her journey into learning about Parkinson’s Disease, starting with her interest on behalf of an inspiring mother with the disease, through to her complete engagement with the levity of those who were telling their stories so well. Hutson became acquainted with ‘Parky’ when her mother fell ill with the disease.  However, it was the overwhelming tomfoolery and defiant joy of those with Parkinson’s that told the real story, that forged the creative soil for The Unstoppable, Unsung Story of Shaky M. As I read it, that word, defiance bounced around inside of me, and sang itself loud as I watched Hutson in her small (and yet oh so large) one woman play. Laughter is a form of defiance, a refusal to allow something to beat you, a stand one takes that their humanity is larger than a certain subject matter. According to Hutson, laughter is a tool regularly used by ‘Parky’ sufferers, and is often the potent guiding hand in allowing people to become their own hero’s.

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And this is the incredible power of The Unstoppable, Unsung Story of Shaky M, a small play that has grown from its modest showings back in June 2012. I attended the 33rd showing of the play, which means Rowena Hutson has been performing The Unstoppable Unsung Story of Shaky M almost non-stop since it first opened just over a year ago. The show has been reaching and touching audiences, including many with Parkinson’s or similar who have been known to rush the stage to connect with Hutson.

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But what makes The Unstoppable, Unsung Story of Shaky M so powerful is not the very fine performance of Hutson giving her version of a sufferer, though it is a very fine performance. Neither is it details of the disease itself, nor the snippets of the lives of those who live with it. What makes The Unstoppable Story of Shaky M so powerful is the journey, within that Shaky M takes, from which she emerges a triumphant example of courage to herself. This is the story of a ‘conquest of happiness’ when life is not going according to plan, when suffering is not going to pass, and when one accepts one has been confined to the outer margins of society, laughter is the tool of power. It is this journey, the inside, the outside and the outcome of it that enthrall the audience, leaving them cheering in their seats. It is the enormity of Shaky M’s spirit, and her astonishing refusal to release that joyful spark that makes us human.

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The audience is left, ultimately with the unadorned rawness of a human who has passed their test with flying colours, who has taken on the greatest of challenges and emerged victorious, a person who knows inside themselves that they have worked for all they are and all they see. This, amazingly, becomes something to envy, to admire, and most remarkably of all, to connect to. Sometimes we don’t get to choose our challenges, they come and find us. However Rowena Hutson and The Unstoppable, Unsung Story of Shaky M tells us that a hero is not made by the battle, but by the victory.

The Unstoppable, Unsung Story of Shakey M is now on at the PACT theatre as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival. You can grab your tickets here.

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