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A dream image representing
A Migrant's Son
by Michaela Burger
(Image: Stage Whispers)
A Migrant’s Son by Michaela Burger. Produced by Critical Stages Touring.
Filmed at the Hopgood Theatre, South Australia 2020, streamed online by Riverside Theatre, Parramatta (Sydney) as A Migrant’s Son Online Watch Party and Interactive Live Chat, Friday August 20, 2021.
The performance (without Live Chat) is also available to stream On Demand on Youtube from Saturday August 21 to Sunday September 5 – viewers can watch as many times as they wish. Bookings via https://riversideparramatta.com.au or phone (02) 8839 3399.
Reviewed by Frank McKone
Performed by Writer and Composer Michaela Burger
With La La Land Choir and George Grifsas (Bouzouki/Guitar)
Director Jane Packham
Musical Director and Choral Arrangements Carol Young
Music Producer/Arranger Dave Higgins
Dramaturgs Sally Hardy & Elena Carapetis
Song Development Jethro Woodward
Costumes Artemis Sidiropoulou
Lighting Design Tom Bayford
After-show Live Chat with Michaela Burger hosted by Critical Stages CEO Chris Bendall.
Michaela Burger is a force to be reckoned with – as a story teller; a voice for her family and migrant community; simply as a powerful speaking and singing voice; as an instant creator of character; as a musician and composer; and as an actor with presence who communicates honestly with her audience.
Filming a stage show can often mean losing the human warmth of a live show. This performance was filmed between Covid restrictions, and, as Burger and Bendall laughingly recalled, was a hurried job as the unlikely opportunity arose.
Though I have not seen the show onstage – it’s life seems to have begun at The Butterfly Club, Melbourne in May 2018 (Stage Whispers) and has toured in Australia and UK – this Hopgood Theatre performance seems to have a sense of immediacy, almost as if improvising as the musicians, choir, and solo performer Burger switch from song to story, from costume to costume, from one family character to another, including herself as the daughter of the son of the Greek migrant whose parents had arrived in Australia in 1924.
|Michaela Burger (George Grifsas behind)
Although this work has been classed as fringe cabaret, this to me puts it down a peg below its significance. Cabaret, of course, can be more than attractive entertainment and certainly can be political, as it was in its beginnings in post World War I Germany. And it can be something like standup comedy, much of which nowadays consists of a humorous, often ironic, take on the performer’s personal life. In the Canberra-Queanbeyan tradition, we are used to a variation on this theme in the shows by Shortis & Simpson, which began in the Queanbeyan School of Arts Café back in the mid-1990s.
But Michaela Burger has revealed in this show a highly personal experience which is clearly fundamental to her sense of herself, of her understanding of her identity, and even of her need to be a creator and performer. She shows us why she is what she is because of the bonds in her family, on her father’s side through from her grandfather and even great-grandfather, and the culture of Greek women in their lives.
This, in my view, places A Migrant’s Son in the line of work of quite recent times, which I have called Personal Theatre. Though my situation means I never see as wide a range of theatre as I would like, so far all work of this kind seems to be by women. I will now add Michaela Burger to my list: Liz Lea in Red (2018), Ghenoa Gela in My Urrwai (2018), I’m a Phoenix, Bitch by Bryony Kimmings (2020), and Stop Girl by Sally Sara (2021).
The content and theatrical form in each case is quite different, but the essence of this type of theatre is that we are taken directly into appreciating, understanding and respecting an element of each creator’s personal life which is central to their understanding of themselves. In each story there is some particular moment of new awareness entirely personal to her, which I have experienced during the performance as an awakening of my own feelings – for the performer, and for myself on reflecting on my own life.
That moment in A Migrant’s Son is the accidental death of Michaela’s uncle: her father’s brother; her grandmother’s son. Even though Michaela had never met her uncle, it was in her learning of that story in its awful detail that she understood the truth of her grandfather’s dictum: “family is everything”. When, in the Live Chat, someone asked “Is family still everything?”, I knew the answer before Michaela spoke, saying “family is the meaning of identity”.
This is what theatre is for: what it is all about.
The daughter of A Migrant's Son