Asbestos was the answer to just about everything, or so the manufacturers of asbestos products told us, but there was something that they didn’t tell us: that it was highly toxic and would kill vast numbers of people. This extremely moving production brings it down to a very personal level, introducing people who have been affected either themselves or by the loss of loved ones.
This community-based work was originally created in Victoria in 2009 and is now being re-staged in Adelaide, working with local people for only four performances and I was told that the season was almost sold out.
Asbestos was found to have many remarkable properties as well as being cheap as it needed very little refining,and its most noticeable use was in affordable housing when James Hardie brought Fibrolite to Australia and soon began mining asbestos here. Less well known, was its hidden use in toothpaste, Micronite cigarette filters and a myriad more everyday domestic items.
That so many people have died is tragic, but the real story exposed in this powerful piece is that the health risks were well documented since the 1930s but were ignored and kept hidden from mine workers and the general public by manufacturers of asbestos products.
The first half is a sequence of musical sections, between which the audience wanders around the ‘carnival’ space from booth to booth in a promenade style, performers in each of the eight booths presenting a brief look at some aspect of asbestos related illness.
Here and there in the music, specifically the vocal work, I heard references to Phillip Glass and to Arvo Pärt, which I found most engaging. Musically, these are not trite songs. They are carefully composed pieces that contain some very fine vocal harmonies.
The only problem with the first half is that, with a such very large audience, one needed to be right at the front when at each booth in order to see and hear, and even then hearing was often difficult with the sounds of the performers on either side and worse, a great deal of background noise from about half of the audience who had given up trying to engage with the booths and stood conversing with friends.
After an interval, the space had been filled with seating and now threads from the presentations in the carnival booths were brought together in a series of short scenes, slide and film projections by Malcolm McKinnon, with more songs and dance routines providing bridging between each scene. The importance of making the effort to visit each booth attentively became clear.
Written by Donna Jackson, the work is presented by a large number of performers, including composer, Mark Seymour (Hunters & Collectors), the fifty-strong Born On Monday Choir and Urban Myth Theatre Company, with the production supported by Vitalstatistix, whose former artistic director, Maude Davey, joined the production team, working with the actors to improve their performances.
This is a remarkable and worthwhile joint effort by so many talented people of all ages and backgrounds, a true community involvement. If you can still get a ticket you will be glad that you did.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Critic, Glam Adelaide
Venue: Queen’s Theatre, Playhouse Lane & Gilles Arcade, Adelaide
Season: 2pm and 7:30pm Saturday 4th and 2pm Sunday 5th May 2013
Duration: 2hr 20min incl intvl.
Tickets: Adult $25/Concession $18
Bookings: BASS 131 246 or here