Five young women from Western Sydney have a lot of differences from their personal style to their family history to their cultural upbringing but music matters to all of them as comfort, inspiration, and a field to express themselves as growing and changing individuals. Playlist is about being a woman today with the soaring successes of legal and political freedom in hand with all the other ways woman are still kept quiet and scared.
Each actor is playing themselves, opening with an introduction about their ties to Western Sydney and flowing through to conversations about concerns like mental health, creative freedom and big dreams, relationships, and figuring out who you are within a nation, a culture, and a family. Interspersed are broader conversations about problematic favourite celebrities, intersectionality in contemporary feminism, and the complicated dynamic between sexual freedom and objectification of women’s bodies. Not every voice or experience is universal but they are all familiar in the ache and uncertainty of being a woman in a global patriarchy.
Direction from Karen Therese and choreography from Larissa McGowan seamlessly combines the women’s monologues with affective physical pieces including group and solo dances, a spur-of-the-moment music video, and more abstract performances with repetition to represent mundanity and habit and aggressive confrontations that symbolised fear of violence and assault. As a whole, the production is a cohesive multi-modal performance that explores so many aspects of identity for young women in their own words and with their own bodies. In this way, Playlist works as a representation of young women having autonomy over their lives and the presentation of themselves from what they’re willing to share with the audience to how they interact with each other.
As a proudly feminist production, the included conversations concerning intersectionality and representation in the media, specifically through music and popular female singers, are accessible and allow the audience to enter the conversation from their own starting point while also avoiding the reductive tone of Feminism 101. The performers are honest, respectful, compassionate, and considered in a refreshing counter-representation to the tooth-and-nail portrayals of feminist disagreement so common in mainstream media. This feminism is supportive and community focused and acknowledges difference while not over-playing similarity, either. While Therese and her production team should be commended for the diversity of voices included in Playlist, it should also be noted this production is focused largely on cisgender experiences of womanhood.
What is perhaps most engaging about these performers is their self-representation as powerful. Throughout the production they are frequently given the space by each other and themselves to show their full potential as rockstars, dancers, concert enthusiasts, or whatever it is that they’re proud of. Their physicality is big and open, their voices clear and loud. Ebube Uba and Neda Taha are captivating in their dance sequences with a fierce and intoxicating energy while Mara Knezevic captures hearts as an aspiring rocker/opera singer/pop idol/star. But there is equal power found in quiet moments of vulnerability like May Tran’s experiences with unsteady mental health or the solace Tasha O’Brien finds for a broken heart. These woman live and want and lose and give and they aren’t going to diminish themselves in the telling of their stories.
The technical design of this production from the transformative triangle platforms to the electric sound design and lighting tie the production’s parts together with a vibrancy and joy. Verity Hampson’s lighting design finds moments of tonal shift and emotional flow to build connected atmosphere very well. Sound design from Gail Priest and Jasmine Guffond draws the micro and macro lenses of the production together and invites the audience to find familiarity in the resounding beats.
While so many creative pieces endeavour to celebrate the cultures and experiences from which they grew, Playlist walks the walk in its big, feminist, multi-modal and multi-tonal exploration of young womanhood.
Playlist is running at the Sydney Opera House Studio from May 16th – 19th as part of Festival UnWrapped