‘My chest hurts from watching that’: A Wake/Kids Killing Kids reviews

awake09 image by Sarah Walker

So A Wake: Kids Killing Kids is now DONE. Nine of us (Ninya Bedruz, Sam Burns-Warr, Ness Roque, Georgie McAuley, Alon Segarra, JK Anicoche, Jordan Prosser, Sarah Salazar and myself) gathered in Melbourne with director Bridget Balodis, designer Melanie Koomen and stage manager Cameron Stewart, and told the story of Battalia Royale for the last time – well, nine last times – as part of the 2014 Next Wave festival.

I’m hugely grateful to Next Wave – to Em Sexton and Meg Hale – and to Stephen Armstrong from the Playking Foundation, for making it happen. I’m grateful to everyone who was part of it: it was a pleasure to stand there on stage with you cats and share the story. I’m grateful to everyone who came along – it was a kind and generous audience, and lots of good and thoughtful conversations after the work. And I’m grateful it’s finished.

Now what did the critics think? Rebecca McLean Chan from the Australia Council described the work as ‘a thought-provoking and important public debriefing’, which is nice. Alison Croggon wrote about it for ABC Arts, which was exciting for me cause I think Croggon’s a genius and it’s the first time she’s seen any of my work. She said:

A Wake: Kids Killing Kids is a return of theatre company MKA’s hit from the Fringe Festival. I missed that incarnation, although I didn’t miss the controversy… I don’t know what the initial show was like, but here it was Sipat Lawin that held your attention, with the Australians playing the role of naïve fools on the edges of a history of violence that they barely understand.

This performance raises a bundle of knotty questions. Among the most vexed are the models of cross-cultural collaboration and its parallels with colonisation, and the morality of the representation of ultra-violence. Here the members of Sipat Lawin articulate their ambivalences: on the one hand, the violence of the show spoke to the unacknowledged colonial violence that runs through the bloody history of the Philippines; on the other, what does it mean when an audience is screaming for the murder of a child? How does fantasy relate to reality? Is it brutalising to so faithfully enact ultra-violence, or can it be politically empowering in a society in which memories of actual violence are actively repressed? A Wake didn’t answer any of these questions, which are turned over, discomfortingly, to the audience; but the passion of Sipat Lawin in addressing them gives the lie to any easy answers.

This is a true thing, and I have to give a shout out here to Ness, Ninya, JK, Sarah and Alon, who brought such a hard and uncompromising honesty to the show every night, it really left everyone stunned. Motherfuckers can act.

awake10 image by Sarah Walker

Rebecca Harkins-Cross from the Age liked it not at all:

More questions are raised than answered, leaving vexing gaps in the most pressing areas: how did they decide upon this problematic text? Did they discuss the potentially traumatic ramifications of performative violence before they undertook the project? Sipat Lawin wanted to confront their society’s normalisation of violence by showcasing it excessively, but surely enormous crowds whooping for characters to die wasn’t the reaction they envisaged?

I’m still bemused as to whether this is an ingenious way of igniting debate, or a cautionary tale about the perils of clueless cross-cultural collaboration. I was left wishing I’d seen the original production instead.

I didn’t get a lot from this review, honestly, but all good – people are welcome to dislike things. The article, though, was upstaged by the cheeky sub-editor who accompanied it with the following image and caption:



Finally, Fleur Kilpatrick wrote an extraordinary post about the show on her School For Birds blog, where she invited two audience members to discuss the show with her immediately upon leaving the theatre. Their conversation was thoughtful, generous yet rigorous. They were particularly on the ball with regard to the form of the show, intelligently interrogating our choices in terms of how we put it together. I can’t help quoting a short sample:

Josiah: One question that came up (a question they tried to engage with last time when it was just the four of them without the Sipat Lawin ensemble and didn’t really have an answer for) was ‘why make this work?’ Having seen their show I now approach a lot of shows with that question. Why now? I get that you are adapting Oscar Wilde to the stage or I get that you want to re-stage a Patrick White play or I get that Stephen Sewell is really interesting but it is a play from the 80s so why now? It is a very useful critical question that I brought away from the last season. It is so great to have the Sipat Lawin ensemble here because I feel like you have much more of an understanding of the ‘why.’ That wasn’t very well represented in the last one.

SFB: I think deliberately. They almost played up their naivety. They are four incredibly cluey makers but I think they played up the blundering white kids thing. They played that up and I think that was partly them not wanting to appropriate the story that wasn’t theirs to tell: the experience of performing Battalia Royale night after night and engaging with the audience as fellow Filipinos. I think they deliberately played that naivety out of respect for their collaborators, and that was incredibly brave and selfless of them because it provoked more heated discussion than if they had played themselves as all-knowing. But it meant audiences might leave questioning their motivations and their sanity.

This time I felt really satisfied by their engagement with the work. And they got to me. My chest hurts from just watching that. My breath isn’t right yet. It affected me physically.

Josiah: Some of the testimonies from the Sipat Lawin ensemble were heart-breaking. One of the actresses talking about playing her role and asking ‘why is the audience cheering? I have a character who is very real to me. I’m getting brutally murdered on stage and this audience is cheering for my death. That feels wrong but, at the same time, I want to continue making this work.’

I was watching her get tears in her eyes and I’m like ‘oh my God!’

Boom panes.

awake08 image by Sarah Walker

Now as always, whenever I finish a show, I put on this Out Hud track and say out loud the vocal snippet which opens it.