Black Swan State Theatre for Perth Festival: You Know We Belong Together

Studio Underground

Review: Jan Hallam

Well one thing is certain, if Julia Hales’ show was an audition piece for her beloved TV soap Home and Away, they’d be foolish not to take her up on it. Concept, script and performance combined for an absorbing, highly entertaining hour in the theatre.

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Hales opens the piece on an empty stage that will soon be transformed into Irene’s diner at Summer Bay – the fictional home of one of Australia’s longest running TV soapies and one that she quickly tells us she’s been watching since the age of seven – that’s 30 years of fandom!

She also tells us she has Down syndrome and it’s about time art started reflecting life and that the Seven producers should create a character exactly like the one she’s about to demonstrate to the sell-out crowd at the Studio Underground.

In fact, the character we get the best glimpse of is Julia Hales herself – the third child in a family of four, who grew up in Perth, had summers in Eagle Bay, who has dreams of acting on national television and to find the love of her life by the time she’s 40.

Hales begins to introduce us to some of her collaborators – hip hop dancer Lauren Marchbank, aspiring actor and screenwriter Tina Fielding and amateur ballroom dancers, Mark and Melissa Junor.  They, too, have Down syndrome, and they also took the audience on a journey into their art and lives.

At the Saturday matinee, Black Swan State Theatre artistic director Clare Watson, and director of You Know We Belong Together, announced that artist Patrick Carter was unable to take to the stage due to illness.

But he was represented on the screen, along with the others, as Hales interviews her friends, exploring their loves, hopes and dreams. After each interview, each one takes their place on stage to share a milkshake in the diner.

This is a political show on both a deeply personal and cultural level. Hales’ story, which was commissioned by the festival and co-written by Finn O’Branagáin from BSSTC, is about ability yet she and her colleagues are so often judged by their disability.

If the audience is unaware of the work of DADAA (Disability in the Arts Disadvantage in the Arts), it’s time to rectify that. DADAA, which was co-producer along with BSSTC and the Festival, enable and support the creative work being produced by an army of enthusiastic actors, artists, dancers and musicians and the quality of the output is astounding. You Know We Belong Together is no exception.

By the end of the show, we have had the privilege of peeping into Hales’ world of love, loss and laughter, of which there is plenty. Barriers tumble down, and it’s incumbent on those fortunate enough to see this show to do their bit to keep them down.

You Know We Belong Together runs at Studio Underground until March 4.