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Theatre review: Boxman

A one-man play exploring notions of home, identity and family is part of Melbourne's biennial, multicultural Big West Festival. Mary-Lou Ciampa reviews the show.

‘I’ve lived many lives. Which one am I living now? I hope this one is the last.’

Living in an inner city park – the publicity material tells us it’s Footscray, but it’s never mentioned in the performance – Ringo invites us into his ‘home’.

‘I made it myself. It didn’t cost me anything.’

And so we come to discover how the affable Ringo, from an unnamed African nation, has made his way to our doorstep and what he lost or gained along the way.

Boxman is the latest collaboration between writer Daniel Keene and director Matt Scholten, specially commissioned for this year’s Big West Festival by Artistic Director Kate Shearer.

Both residents of Melbourne’s inner west, the duo wanted to highlight the stories of those living around them, particularly those arriving from African countries. They happened upon actor Terry Yeboah whose own experiences provided a platform from which Keene developed the script. The themes of identity, home, family and integrity were the focus for the work.

The theatre is make-shift – a shopping strip store front in Footscray, its windows boarded up, with packing material strewn in the corners. A massive cardboard box dominates the floor space. There’s only room for two rows of chairs, so it’s nice and cosy.

Nowhere to hide – for the actor or the audience.

The effect is that it feels like Terry Yeboah’s chatty Ringo is speaking directly to you. You can’t help but make eye contact and realise he can see you as clearly as you him, and you wonder: how much does our reaction affect his performance?

A little, is the answer, as witnessed by the moment an audience member scrambled for the door mid-show in order to spare us her lengthy coughing fit. The result was a call for a line prompt by Yeboah, but was so imperceptible that it was only when the stage manager uttered those three words that we were even aware the disruption had had any impact on him.

But this doesn’t take anything away from Yeboah’s ability to draw you into his world. He captivates with his endearing facial expressions that run the gamut of cheeky rascal to deeply burdened soul.

This is heavy, confronting stuff.

Matt Scholten’s direction includes a couple of welcome surprises and Keene’s script showcases perceptive observations and thought-provoking turns of phrase. The elliptical nature of the story, however, does feel unnecessarily repetitive in parts, and you sometimes want it to push through and move ahead instead of getting stuck in the sorrow.

Some awkwardness does arise from the script’s tendency to jump around a bit.

That said, the overwhelming sense by the end of the 75 minutes is that you’ve spent an intensely moving evening with an utterly charming, box-dwelling story-teller. In fact, this reviewer is thinking of going back for more.

Boxman is playing at the Bruce Gallery, 361 Barkly St Footscray, until the 26th November.

Mary-Lou Ciampa is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student at La Trobe University, and upstart’s co-editor. You can follow her on Twitter: @zialulu

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