Magpie is a touching Australian story, written by Elise Grieg and published by Playlab, who are getting quite the collection of high quality works under their belt these days (including Blue Bones, The Longest Minute among others). Moredcai, an Australian woman whose family were of Romani descent, returns from a self-imposed exile in England to sell her old family home, after the death of her father.
It’s a conversation starter, to be sure. The storyline was predictable, following a well-trod path: the dark family secret that hides an old wound, carried to a lonely grave. The angry rejection, followed by an emancipation as the truth comes out. But Magpie speaks to the stories of so many immigrant families. In fact, that very predictability is also its relatability. It is true that, when many Australian families came here, they didn’t come for kicks, they came escaping poverty, war, criminal histories: sometimes they had committed the crimes, sometimes not. Our forebears drank, and fought, and made the best of it. They took shitty jobs, honest jobs, where you worked with your hands and scrimped and saved. And tried to raise their kids to have better than what they had. And the kids oftentimes rejected their heritage, rejected it when schoolyard bullies taunted them, rejected the strange foods that their peers did not have, rejected their parents’ quaint ways that seemed so out of touch, when really, they were just old ways misplaced in a new culture. And sometimes, their parents gave them the best chance they thought they could, by letting them go.
The play is solid. The performances solid. I felt a bit unsure about the thoroughly broken fourth wall that only the protagonist could see through. It moved me in and out of the suspension of belief, which is a shame because the relationships between the characters were well articulated and each presented a solid performance. The giddy energy of Splinter, a kid on the run yet brimful of joy. The fiercely proud Meshack within whom violence simmers close to the surface at all times. And the wistful Aggy, strong, damaged, and working her way through the tangles of a relationship tainted by tragedy. The trip down memory lane was, as mentioned previously, predictable, but had a lovely kind of solace. It was lovely to hear a story set in Brisbane, set in our town, the smells and the heat familiar to me. But Brisbane is much loved by me as a third-generation Australian, instead of a penance for a newly arrived mother without the support of her peers, and a father whose temperature rises as violently as the heat. The storm, the waiting for the energy to break, a summer song all Queenslanders will recognise.
Mordecai, played by Barb Lowing, was utterly convincing, a character we have all met at an airport, or in a busy city bistro. Blustering her way through life, with a mouth like a sailor and a welt of unresolved issues, her fractious relationship with her daughter only serves to highlight her disconnect with her former home. When she moves through her memories, we see her eyes light up, we see the child that still lives inside her, though buried deeply now. As the ghost of her former self rises slowly to the surface, the bluster is slowly stripped away, and a stronger, surer, yet gentler woman walks off the stage, defeated, and yet, having found a kind of redemption.
In the days after the show, I have found myself dreaming of my Italian grandmother, on the boat to Australia with a new husband found in the heady times of a refugee camp in northern Italy. Or my Dutch grandparents, with four kids at their heels, none of whom learned their parents langauge. Magpie is a story that belongs to many of us, those that came, those that ran again, and those that stayed on, breaking their bread in this strange misshapen colony.
Nadia Jade saw Magpie at Brisbane Powerhouse on Saturday 1st June 2019.
Director and Dramaturg | Ian Lawson
Playwright |Elise Greig
Designer | Josh McIntosh
LX Designer |David Walters
Sound Designer |Guy Webster
Performers |Barb Lowing, Kathryn Marquet, Julian Curtis, Michael Mandalios
Voiceover Artist | Luisa Prosser