The name Jimi Bani might be familiar from his stage and screen roles (recently, ABC’s Black Comedy). You’ll learn more about him, his family, and their particular corner of the Torres Strait, through My Name is Jimi, based on a story by Jimi and Dimple Bani, co-created with Jason Klarwein
Bani continues a family line of guardians of the culture of the Wagadagam people on Mabuiag (roughly pronounced Mab-oo-yarg) Island. Listed as “Theatre” in the MIAF 2018 guide, the show feels like a more informal gathering than you might expect from an indoors arts festival performance.
The mostly-cheerful Bani often addressed the audience, or quizzed us on what we’d learned from his stories of island life. The often-relaxed nature of proceedings is also due to the presence of family, clearly comfortable on stage. At various times, Bani’s grandmother, mother, brothers, and eldest son assisted in sharing stories of culture and family history, performing dance, or playing traditional instruments.
The show often surprised by telling its tales through a diversity of forms. One minute we might have a flashy animation sequence, the next Bani’s brothers with son Dimitri wring amusement from how the dress of the Wagadagam male has changed between generations.
The family also have talents in manoeuvring cameras around dioramas to create live video. This gave us many visually appealing moments, showing Bani’s home or employing puppets to relate legends, blending the comedic and grotesque.
When depending on speech, the style of delivery was often natural, like a conversation in real time. Given this, the odd development seemed ill-fitting. I recall a scene where Dimitri was too busy with his phone to join a conversation, causing Bani to storm off stage. This seemed to be confected – and very easily resolved – conflict.
Sometimes we might wonder why we’re now hearing about some particular event or cultural snippet over the meandering course of the show. Bani gets away with this, largely by being a charming storyteller. It also helps that his mother and grandmother bring gravitas to the story, and that the transformations between scenes are slick.
The show noted the injustices faced by Bani’s people, but doesn’t dwell on them, choosing to focus on the continuation of culture into the future. Through this the show maintains an upbeat attitude that makes it suitable for the suggested 10+ age range.
Bani’s storytelling provided a good introduction to Wagadagam culture, and highlighted his family’s achievements. This, combined with the inventive presentation, makes My Name is Jimi a source of inspiration and delight.
My Name is Jimi
Fairfax Studio – Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Performance: Thursday 4 October 2018 – 7:30pm
Season continues to 7 October 2018
Information and Bookings: www.festival.melbourne
Image: My Name Is Jimi – photo by Daniel Boud
Review: Jason Whyte