Jali | Griffin Theatre Company

Image by Estelle Yoon

The concept of home and what having one gives to you are things many Australians are lucky enough to take for granted. Stability, safety, a memory of where you’re coming from, and a plan for where you’re going; small things denied to so many. In this autobiographical solo show, Oliver Twist examines his own experiences with starting over as a Rwandan refugee.

Twist meandered around a glossy black platform, delivering in his clear, measured voice anecdotes, faded memories, and family legends. These stories form the timeline of Twist and his family’s many movements from Rwanda to Malawi to Australia as refugees of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. But they also represent many different iterations of Twist starting over, being reborn, and quite literally rewriting his life story.

Spliced between the linear moments of Twist’s parents meeting, the children being born, growing up amongst violence, and eventually becoming an Australian actor, were hazy recollected images of a baptism. Under Kelsey Lee’s technical design, Twist is alternately bathed in golden light to match his bright t-shirt and cool blue tones, reflecting the surface of Lake Kivu. This memory in particular stands out for its explicit symbolism of innocence and forgiveness, an opportunity to shed trauma and reawaken in a better life. Twist’s continued return to this memory signals rebirth as a process, a recurrent experience in his life through great disappointments as well as successes.

Twist is a masterful performer who very quickly gathers the audience up in the palm of his hand. His pacing and delivery were precise and well directed by Erin Taylor, who found a way to balance the poignant, hilarious, and painful moments of Twist’s story. Despite his lonesome position on the stage, Twist’s charm and composer Chrysoulla Markoulli’s layered atmospheric soundscapes shaped the space around him for a rich theatrical experience.

Jali is running at the SBW Stables Theatre from March 16th – 27th

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