Words By: Laurent Shervington, Image Credit: David Alarcn
Throughout human history, it’s fair to say that a reasonable amount of weight is placed on how we and past generations have arrived at where we are in the present. Forays into tracing genealogy have become more common and accessible as technology grows, allowing barriers to be bypassed, forgotten information remembered and family trees to blossom among forests.
Despite the undoubtedly practical features of websites like ancestry.com or the baby-boomer geared tv programme ‘Who Do You Think You’, there remains a space between for personal stories among otherwise forgotten families living parts of the world struck by precarious situations.
These stories are what Chilean playwright Lola Arias’s The Year I Was Born aims to reveal, done through an almost freeform style of documentary theatre. The ten or so ‘actors’ involved in the production play (or represent) themselves and their parent’s generation – those who lived under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. This 17-year period holds a lot of notoriety for those living in Chile at the time, with thousands of people tortured and killed and thousands more forced to leave the country.
Piecing together photographs, letters, radio broadcasts, clothing and any other remnants from the cast’s personal collections, an incredible breadth of information is uncovered from a very specific time and place. At its best the stories unfold in a very natural and deliberate way – with comic relief or musical numbers brightening moments that threaten to consume themselves with melancholy.
The production does perhaps suffer from its lengthy runtime, certain sections could benefit from thinning, in particular, the persistent lining up pursuant to class, skin colour, parental political affiliation, etc could have been tightened.
That said, the boldness of the narrative holds a sense of raw honesty and substance rarely found in forms of theatre, as deaths of parents are re-enacted, pilgrimages on maps are traced and totalitarian protocol is announced behind feedbacking guitars. These elements underpin the idea that everyone’s story holds a special significance among a time, place and context. Ultimately Arias succeeds in presenting an exploration of country that shouldn’t be defined by its politics, but by its people.
The Year I Was Born is running from the 15th to the 18th of February at the Heath Ledger Theatre (State Theatre Centre), reserve your tickets here.