Which Way Home – The language we use to talk to our-self. (Theatre Review)
Which Way Home
An ILBIJERRI Theatre Company production in association with Belvoir & Sydney Festival
Control of the narrative is surely one of the most important modern battles for the developed world. We are seeing this problem exposed at its most crude with the imposition of “fake news,” but perspective has always ruled every kind of policy and its deliverance. Are Asylum seekers queue jumpers, or an intellectual elite who understand international human rights? Are feminists a force for equity or man haters? Are indigenous cultures oppressed or lazy? Is nature or nurture our primary motivator? Is the environment in serious decline or are the left seeking a wedge of political advantage? The list is endless. As close as we get to defining and understanding a thing, we can’t seem to shake its shadow, its opposite. Language both defines and alienates. It clarifies and calls us closer to doubt at the same time.
It is the question of speaking and how language serves to connect and separate us from our loved ones that Katie Beckett explores in Which Way Home. The audience witnesses a conversation between a woman and her father that is also a road trip to a known and unknowable future. This is language itself. It was Heidegger who said “It therefore might be helpful to us to rid ourselves of the habit of always hearing only what we already understand.” (On the Way to Language. M Heidegger) When Tash takes this journey with her Dad, we watch a woman transitioning from child to adult via a conversation tied to an event that is changing her life before us. She remembers and speaks about key events in her life with her father that formed and shaped her, and yet these events also sit outside of the depth and beauty of the connection she has to the man she knows who is also unknowable. Which Way Home packs a clever punch line that serves to alter the perspective of the text from journey to a meditation on language; Serving to make us mindful of language and our relation to it. Surely a conversation is always an experience we have with our self. Sometimes we do it in front of an other as they have theirs in front of us. Any overlap is a happy, unverifiable accident.
As we understand the importance of language, studies have emerged that seek to measure and quantify it. These are all good and important but scientific and philosophical information about language is one thing: an experience we undergo with language is another. It is in the connection between language and experience that Katie Beckett finds her trajectory for Which Way Home that gives the piece a lyrical depth disproportionate to the writers’ experience. Katie Beckett stands inside and outside of herself successfully, telling a story obviously close to home, but with the crafted skill and intuitive freedom of the partial observer. (What other sort of observer is there?)
Which Way Home is supported in its ambitious aims by director Rachael Maza and dramaturge Jane Bodie, who bring their own narrative layers to Katie Beckett’s yarn. Comedic touches are tempered with poignancy and strongly character driven so that any oppressive racial assumptions an audience member might bring with them are abandon for the warmth of human connection. But Which Way Home isn’t a play that exploits emotions it knows are in the room. Rather it presumes intelligence in its audience, playing to that in a high compliment not everyone in our culture deserves. It does this with patient wisdom rather than any kind of revelatory preachiness. That is a refreshing joy.
The combination on stage of Katie Beckett as herself and Tony Briggs as her struggling and deeply loving father is where the winning combination of all the above comes to a clear and fluid realisation. The pair are convincing as father and daughter, exquisitely beautiful and perfectly timed. A constant sand through the hourglass image off to the left of the stage makes for a mesmerising focus.
All in all, Which Way Home is a delightful Australian play that recognises and understands its audience. It’s a must for any Australian, particularly in a week where are celebrating and commiserating over Australia Day. Try not to miss it.