January 08

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Since Ali Died – Poetry on the Griffin Stage (Theatre Review)

Since Ali Died

Griffin Theatre Company

Stables Theatre, 7-19 January. You can grab your tickets here.

Images: Robert Catto

Rap, Hip Hop and other Mainstream Black Art occupy an explosive tension at the intersection of race, commerce and culture. A great deal of Black Art is consumed by non-Black folk and distributed upon non-Black platforms that itself pulses at the tensions associated with occupation, consumption and appropriation. Main stage theatre is a platform for conversation though it teeters at these crossroads because of its dominating white history and theatres position in white cultures like our Australian one. What Black and Brown artists produce is often distributed on white vehicles, and we live inside the awkwardness this creates. The imagination crises climaxes when we discover the Black/Brown artists’ best friend is the white self-effacing liberal desperate for their weekend post-Christian-atheist-confession-ritual that eases the guilt we feel as we toddle off to our high-paying jobs on Monday. Let’s be honest. Us lefties have a huge hard on for being told we are lame, and this desperation does not result in great art.

The resolution of this tension is not Omar Musa’s task, nor his desire, nonetheless it pulses at the edges of the one-hour set with uncomfortable insistence. There is no doubt Omar Musa writes beautiful poetry even if it is a little repetitive. Hard won skill informs his poetic phrase, and he delights audiences with a witty, knitted word play. Complex socio-political problems arise with his efforts to convey the difficulties of an outsider’s life in Queanbeyan and Since Ali Died becomes keen to provide comfort to a white elite who control the Australian poetry, theatre and literature scene. Details of his experience are sacrificed for broad brush strokes of ‘typical’ minority experiences in Australia. This might work well for the audiences of Griffin who get to see this style of performance. It should be noted Since Ali Died was part of the Batch Festival in 2018, a series of shows designed to present works leaning toward the outsider aesthetic for the typical Griffin audience. This is a great opportunity to see something these folk might otherwise miss.

The need for a potent avant garde landscape, a counter narrative to the mainstream is paramount in Australia. This should be a vibrant alternative cultural scene that does not cow-tow to main stages, or other national symbols of white literary superiority. Omar Musa’s poetry is beautiful, but all too appropriate for a white elite literary set who act more locked gate than open door. To witness a talent subsume and reduce artistic fire to make it more palatable, and one gets a sense Since Ali Died does just that is heartbreaking for those of us desperate for alternatives to peace and poise. When you say what you need to say to white people with clarity, they don’t offer you a platform to do it – trust me. But then, Omar Musa deserves a piece of our tiny pie more than others, so why shouldn’t he go for it?

While I applaud Griffin’s expansion to reveal works deemed outsider, I worry that the work will be curated, edited and assistant directed into something more palatable to white audiences.

For Omar Musa I have two pieces of advice. Stop hitting on girls in the first row – it’s a bad look. And find a way to operate without white people’s money. Make your art outside white wealth, because if you say the unsayable (and god knows someone has to) they will take their money from you in a heartbeat and starve you while offering sincere apologies.

Mine is just one reviewer’s opinion.  Please see the three links below for warm reviews that do not include a rant about Australian literary conventions.

The Sydney Morning Herald

Timeout

Limelight

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