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G'day, Oz stereotype, your place or mine?


May Utang: first of the Are We Where We Are? Series at Theatre Absolute, Coventry

A theatre housed in a former chip shop beneath a martial arts centre and diagonally opposite a branch of Ikea seemed a good place to ask: “Are we where we are?”

The question was first raised in 1854 by the American novelist Henry David Thoreau, who has evidently provided Theatre Absolute’s co-founder Chris O’Connell with some thought-provoking bed-time reading.

Jules Orcullo’s one-off performance on Thursday night was but the first of a series to be staged here on the same theme, asking questions about such complex and intertwined issues as citizenship, nationhood, justice and race.

Orculo sees herself as an Australian. She certainly talks like one. But does she look like one or, more to the point, our idea of one – white, or rather tanned, from hours spent lying on a beach near her family home in Sydney ogling muscle-bound surfers between games of volleyball?

No, is the short answer to that.

She looks Filipina. After all, her parents moved from the Philippines to Australia to give her the chance of a better life.

They duly prospered as accountants. But did they behave like our idea of accountants, concerned only with the bottom line?

No, again. They put their money into giving their daughter the chance to become a well-educated citizen of the world. That didn’t stop a rough-sleeper calling her “a Chinese woman who doesn’t speak English” on one of her visits to Coventry in the brave new world of Brexit.

In fact, she speaks English better than many people born here or, indeed, in the vast, post-colonial land on the other side of the world. Her half-hour on-stage at Theatre Absolute proved that. It was partly a tribute to her parents and partly an attempt to raise pertinent questions about how far we had come by the second decade of the 21st century and how far we still had to go on issues of race, citizenship, et al.

Those questions managed to raise many more from an almost full house in a lively post-performance discussion. There will be more to come as the theatre housed in a former chip shop continues to ask: “Are we where we are?”

Winner!