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The Day the Sky Turned Black
Published on Tuesday, 17 August 2010

5 stars

C soco (venue website)
4-30 Aug (not 16), 5:30pm (6:25pm)
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

Five chairs, five props, five pairs of shoes.  One actress, Ali Kennedy Scott.  And so begins the story of one terrible day – “Black Saturday” – when bush fires swept the state of Victoria, and 173 rural Australians died in the flames.

In this extraordinarily simple and curiously beautiful work, Kennedy Scott switches between the narratives of five fictional people caught up in a real-life disaster.  Every one of the stories is breathtakingly compelling; every one of them brings a fresh perspective, a new remembered horror and a new reason for hope.  The old woman, the young boy, and the small-town teacher each have a powerful story to tell.  Even the journalist, who could so easily be just a heartless narrator, is sensitively and credibly drawn.

Much of the monologue is heartbreaking.  But it’s performed with understated, contained emotion – which highlights, rather than minimizes, the impact of the words.  Sometimes we’re taken to the brink of despair, but importantly, there’s defiance too; a subdued but strident rallying cry, a determination to carry on.  In this country, we’d call it the Blitz spirit… in Victoria, the play tells us, it’s simply the Australian way.

In a clever gimmick, Kennedy Scott marks her transition to each character not just by shaping her body, but by fixing her hair.  When she plaits it, for example, she truly becomes the sensible young woman who thought she was so prepared – but was proved so tragically wrong.  And when the baseball cap goes on, it’s time for the uncomprehending young boy, whose perspectives are often poignant but are filled with much-needed humour, too.

Impressive though Kennedy Scott’s physical acting was, what really stunned me was her vocal talent.  She can crack her voice so convincingly that, closing my eyes, I almost believed that an elderly woman had replaced her on the stage.  Talking about the sound, though, I could have lived without the trite minor-key piano music; it was a hackneyed distraction, and I didn’t need a soundtrack to tell me I should be feeling sad.

The play has many messages to take away – including the controversial but well-made case that, perhaps, there was something the government could have done.  But there’s just one message to take from this review: go and see The Day The Sky Turned Black, an emotional tour-de-force and by far the best of the many one-actor shows I’ve taken in at the Fringe this year.

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These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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