Which Way Home

ILBIJERRI Which Way Home Katie Beckett Tony Briggs photo by Steven RhallThere are different kinds of trips. Those to somewhere new bring a novelty that takes us out of ourselves. Those to where we’ve been before achieve the reverse when familiarity causes half-forgotten memories – maybe even buried questions – to needle our consciousness.

The latter kind of trip is at the centre of Which Way Home by Katie Beckett, presented by ILBIJERRI Theatre Company and Darebin Arts Speakeasy. Beckett won the 2015 Balnaves Foundation Indigenous Playwright’s Award for Severed Cord, and had recent appearances in ABC’s Redfern Now and Black Comedy.

The characters in Which Way Home draw on aspects of Beckett’s childhood, such as the death of her mother when Beckett was five, leading to her father raising three kids alone. Despite the challenges, clearly he was capable in the role; in the programme Beckett writes: “The reason I wrote Which Way Home was because I love my dad.”

In the play, adult daughter Tash (Beckett) is going on a road trip with her Dad (Tony Briggs, writer of The Sapphires, screen credits include ABC’s Cleverman and 2009’s Bran Nue Dae). She’s carefully planned the stops on their drive from Ipswich, back to her Dad’s ancestral country in Goodooga. There’s a schedule to keep, and her phone will keep them on track. She’s pre-prepared suitable snacks for the planned break times given her concern for her father, in view of his heart attacks and diabetes.

Dad’s a bit of a joker, and although he loves his daughter, Tash’s ‘OCD’ irritates him at times. He prefers having the windows down to the air-con, and wanting a more relaxed trip. The contrast of personalities provided some good laughs early on for this preview night’s audience.

As the miles glide by, echoes of past trips and snippets of conversations stir up recollections. These show how people can forget how they used to have different opinions. We’re also given some insight into the fears of a single Indigenous parent on how their parenting might be unfairly judged, and what consequences might come.

The play has some deft touches that speak to truths in families. Dad has a tendency to avoid discussion on some topics with “There’s no need to talk about it.” As Tash finds, even when a child becomes an adult they can’t necessarily rebalance the asymmetric relationship with a parent.

Whilst Which Way Home is a pleasant cruise through a family history, it feels as though it takes some time to get out of second gear. I suspect this is because of not quite enough dramatic combustion to accelerate the story early on.

We are some way into the journey before learning of the loss of Tash’s mum and some of Dad’s challenges in raising his daughter. Depriving the audience of such personality-shaping events for so long means that earlier scenes roll by without causing us to be so invested in the family’s story. Conflicts between the pair look merely like niggles that occur in many families.

Maybe being a little confused about where we were heading at times also impeded my experience. I found that some questions raised weren’t adequately explored. Why had Tash become estranged from her father if she loves him so much? And, dad seemed altogether too jolly and spritely to be suffering the degree of ill-health assigned to him.

One other quibble was the use of a flow of sand at the side of stage. I felt that there needed to be more than one comment from Briggs on the nature of time for this to be a meaningful inclusion. Especially as the final scene didn’t seem to fit some instructions given from father to daughter late in the piece.

Minor bumps aside, there’s a lot to like about Which Way Home. Performances are solid throughout, Briggs showing an impish side on the trip and a more serious demeanour in his youth when much of his energy is focussed on his daughter. Beckett does well as the daughter needing to control the present and employs her expressive face to good effect as the innocent child in flashbacks.

The work shows the benefit of an extended development. Input from Dramaturge Jane Bodie has ensured that glances into the past give impetus to the tale, and Director Rachael Maza strikes a good balance between humour and pathos over the journey.

Maybe this model of Which Way Home takes us to a lookout that doesn’t have the most satisfying view, but it’s still a good one. The commitment of the creative team to complementing the story rather than cluttering it with detail makes the play one of the better outings to the theatre I’ve had for a while.

Director: Rachael Maza Writer/Performer: Katie Beckett Performer: Tony Briggs Dramaturge: Jane Bodie Set & Costume Designer: Emily Barrie Lighting Designer: Nik Pajanti Sound Designer: Mark Coles Smith Production Manager: Carly Heard Stage Manager: Kellie Jayne Chambers Sound Support: Steph O’Hara Producer: Ben Graetz

Which Way Home
Northcote Town Hall, 189 High Street, Northcote
Performance: Wednesday 24 August 2016 (preview)
Season continues to 3 September 2016
Bookings: www.northcotetownhall.com.au

For more information, visit: www.ilbijerri.com.au for details.

Image: Katie Beckett and Tony Briggs in Which Way Home – photo by Steven Rhall

Review: Jason Whyte