Barbara and The Camp Dogs
by Ursula Yovich & Alana Valentine
Belvoir Street Theatre
Photos Brett Boardman
Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP
With tables, chairs and stools on the stage, the Belvoir Upstairs Theatre has been transformed into a pub somewhere in Sydney where Barbara and her band, The Camp Dogs, are playing.
Trying to eke out a living performing her original songs, Barbara, her foster-sister, René and the band of all-female musicians (Debbie Yap, Michelle Vincent and Jessica Dunn) take to the road. They end up in the Northern Territory where a close relative is dying in hospital, and the unintended situation compels Barbara to prioritise aspects of her life; in the final analysis, what’s important and what are merely distractions?
The self-obsessed, impulsive, impetuous and volatile Barbara is at first annoying, but through the songs and the dialogue, we eventually empathise with her frustration at being an Aboriginal woman in Australia.
The original songs were written by Ursula Yovich, Alana Valentine and Adm Ventoura, and some are heart-wrenching and raw.
As René, Elaine Crombie is the perfect foil to Ursula Yovich’s Barbara. She’s opposite in temperament, physicality, compassion, tolerance and understanding. She has the same social experiences but treats them with a degree of resignation and acceptance. So which one of the two women is more likely to effect greater societal change? George Bernard Shaw famously said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
Both performers possess impressive voices, and in singing those songs, the audience experiences something powerful; it’s much more than just a concert/musical/play. It’s social commentary about politics, prejudice, the home, family and love.
Troy Brady provides some balance as cousin Joseph, but Barbara and The Camp Dogs is really about the journey of the women, and Director Leticia Caceres steers it with skill to allow the emotions to flow through to deeply affect the audience.
I’ve not seen a production like this, and if you catch Barbara and The Camp Dogs, you’re guaranteed a unique theatrical experience.
Also, if you’re game enough to sit on one of the chairs or stools on stage, you’ll receive a significant discount on your ticket price. Is it worth it to place yourself in the middle of a cyclone? You decide.