The Honouring is a courageous and hauntingly orchestrated hybrid piece of theatre created and performed by Jack Sheppard (Kuttjar Clan of the Gulf of Carpentaria), as part of the biennial Yirramboi Festival, currently on at La Mama Courthouse.
Sheppard takes us on a vivid and personal story of teenage trauma and suicide in the First Nations communities. Evocative self-expressive dance-performance and storytelling, together with his team of puppeteers (Tim Denton and Greg Fryer), have created a significant and heart-wrenching tale reflecting on Dreamtime - belief systems and ritual - while highlighting the taboo subject of teen suicide, and the stifling inability of the young indigenous people to cope with their dire povertial circumstances.
A raw cathartic energy exudes from Sheppard as he addresses his audience with a sorrowful countenance; to his left there is the lowering of a hanged, hooded figure (puppet) - a close friend, he grieves with uncertainty and confusion. He threads out symbolic numbers of deaths from its belly, music is eerie and thunderstruck (James Henry), while the lighting is gothic-inspired (Rachel Rui Quia Lee).
There is purity and innocence in Sheppard’s performance that tells a familiar story. Dreamtime offers solace but no relief, the ancestral bird spirits flutter (shadow puppets), young souls are set free according to lore and custom, yet colonization and trans-generational trauma is self-evident and ever-present.
Indigenous teen suicide has finally for the first time been declared a National Crisis in 2019, and Sheppard and his team of creatives have made a challenging piece of theatre that addresses these pressing concerns.
Photographer: James Henry