The video performances of Come to Where I Am provide the holiday we all need in lockdown, says Monique Grbec
The second volume of Critical Stages’ Come to Where I Am presents four video postcards from writers across Australia. The 10-minute performances are linked by locale, and coloured with the artists’ experiences of living through Covid-19. They take us from the greens of a five-acre block in Taungurung Country (Kyneton, Victoria) to the bleached beaches and big blue sky of Kabi Kabi (Caloundra, Queensland), up to a twilight campfire yarn on Peppimenarti (Palmerston Northern Territory) and down again to the inside of a car parked in Nipaluna Country (Hobart, Tasmania).
The journey is jubilant, with a lot of laughs, some tears, and potent poetics that breathe cool breezes, sunshine kisses and the smell of campfire embers. It shows how unresolved feelings about the history of the place we call home can imprison the mind, just like living inside the Covid-19 lockdown.
The first postcard, Escape to Marriage, gives us a rollicking portrayal of domesticity. Written, filmed and charismatically performed by Tahli Corin and Joshua Tyler, it’s a yin and yang exploration of the fable about the hare and the tortoise. Tyler, a jovial tortoise, enjoys the passive voyeurism of television, embracing the fantasies of being well dressed, adventurous and partaking in orgies, as long as he’s sitting on the couch wearing Ugg boots.
The will-do enthusiasm of Corin the hare means that, after a night watching Escape to the Country, the family of four finds itself cloistered from Covid-19 in their very own “shit hole shack” with wildlife, a creek, and an arsenal of handyman tools. Despite the fracturing effect of home-schooling, the couple agrees that creative expression through story telling and the physical discipline of home renovation strengthens their dynamic family unit.
Starkly contrasting the lush greens of Taungurung, Jeanette Cronin’s Paradise is Silent opens with sun-blinding whites and the bright red of lighthouses rising into azure skies. This is Kings Beach, Kabi Kabi. Avoiding the clichéd metaphor of dangerous sea travel and passage to a safe landing, Cronin speaks of architectural patriarchy, of phalluses, cocks and dicks.
Cronin’s work is not romantic. Contrasting with her idyllic cinematic visuals, which depict a picture-perfect seaside postcard with vivid colours, landscapes and arthouse textures, her writing is potent with the lived drama of a local living in a tourist destination. Human invasion is an ongoing antagonist pre-dating Covid-19, when Cronin leaves the sanctuary of her “glass house mountain” to brave the streets carrying a zip-locked bag of methylated spirits sanitiser.
In her quest to find sand without footprints, she passes “mullet trucks… carny folk dressed as fisherman”. Newly weds prove romance is dead by releasing balloons into the sky, where they’ll fall on the nearby Turtle Beach to be mistaken by turtles for food, killing them. She quotes the local surfies: “the second wave is always bigger” and connects me to present time Melbourne where the death toll from this second wave of Covid-19 infections feels like we’ve been dumped hard and are getting bashed by the sand and water swirls. With sore heads we’re not keen to get back in the water yet; we’re voting to keep the stage 4 restrictions tight.
One of the only jarring parts of Volume 2 was Cronin’s use of French, especially in the light of her opinions of Australian tourists. Does Cronin fantasise that Kings Beach would be a better place to live if we’d been colonised by the French?
From Daly River and Peppimenarti, Tessa Rose sits in twilight for A Little Bit of Territory. The soundtrack of wildlife is a lively backdrop to the accented warmth of Rose’s voice. In this Top End tropical home, the irritations of Covid-19 lockdown are intensified by extreme heat and humidity.
Could mango madness be any harder to handle? Yes: in the midst of kids complaining about missing swimming pools, cinema, school and basketball, here comes a menopausal hot flash. Get ready for a “kettle boiling meltdown”.
Rose is delightful. She’s concerned for the remote communities living in third world conditions who would be decimated if the virus reached them; she worries about the kids who are coming of age and missing their first taste of independence. She rounds off her story with the end of lockdown: a vision of slumber parties and rekindled relationships with kids. She finally shares her birthday feast.
In Nipaluna Country, Alison Mann speaks from the worn, lambswool-covered driver’s seat of a rundown car, probably dating from the 1980s. Her brother, now in hospital with a wound from a chainsaw accident, has a fever and is being tested for Covid-19. Restrictions mean Mann can’t sit with him, or even in the building, so she waits in the car.
Mann’s brother is 10 years older than she is and is her foundation. He taught her to roller skate and bike ride. He is not answering his phone. She glimpses the solid rock buildings of the area and sees them as a reason to fear the past, to fear the convict history that built Hobart wharf.
In the way that an abused child learns to escape into their imagination, Mann reveals a whimsical paracosm in which her car is a giant roller skate that scoots around the city roads. Later, gripped with anxiety about her brother, she details a fantastical hi-viz break-in to the hospital.
Given the lack of images of Nipaluna Country, has Mann chosen the rundown car as a metaphor for the place that shaped her? Is her mind the safe place in “Hobart’s” horrific history?
As we in Melbourne are given a roadmap out of the Covid-19 restrictions, Critical Stages tour is the holiday we all need: a little bit of history, some solid family time, plenty of beautiful scenes and some great stories.
Come to Where I Am Volume Two, written, performed and recorded by Tahli Corin, Joshua Tyler, Jeanette Cronin, Tessa Rose and Alison Mann. Presented by Critical Stages and Paines Plough. Available online at Critical Stages.