It’s always a bit strange attending something you’ve never heard of before. When The Plus Ones gave me the opportunity to cover this year’s Big West Festival, I wasn’t sure what I’d see, but I was given a fascinating and entertaining glimpse into cultures I knew very little about. Big West is a celebration of multicultural performances on the Melbourne’s West Side, in Footscray. Now that I know about it, I’ll be sure to return next time.
Big West doesn’t just do traditional, sit-down-and-watch performances. Put on by Nicholson Street residents and the innovative artistic group This Side of the Tracks, ‘Neighbours’ had a small group of us wandering along Nicholson Street in Footscray, led by various performers and members of the community. After following a man with a giant butterfly net stalking hipsters, we entered David and Marie’s 70s-style hom, complete with lush garden. After that, we met a civil celebrant who performs marriages for the community. She too let us make ourselves at home in her living room.
Blending performance and reality, ‘Neighbours’ was an earnest celebration of residential life. I had a great time getting to know people I might otherwise have never met, and I especially enjoyed the free lemons from David and Marie’s lemon tree. Thanks, guys!
Performed in Amharic with English subtitles, ‘Mefetehe’ (‘solution’) was a story about the struggles a community faces when they integrate themselves into a foreign culture. Put on by Fiker Entertainment at the Flemington Community Centre, Mefetehe follows a young man who has visions for a new community centre for Ethiopians, and all the struggles he faces trying to make that happen.
Blending philosophy, comedy, traditional costumes, song and dance, and politics, ‘Mefetehe’ was a delightful surprise. It was difficult to follow at times, partly because the subtitles weren’t always in line with what was happening on stage, but the song and dance routine towards the end was spectacular. Kids in the audience were dancing in the aisles to the traditional Ethiopian jazz, while the performers on stage had me fixated.
In a parking lot on Paisley Street in Footscray, the Big West ‘House’ was like something straight out of a dream. Half built and open to the public, we were allowed to lounge around on beanbags on the first floor before the show started.
Sandra Fiona Long’s ‘Birdcage Thursdays’ took place upstairs, in a room crowded with cardboard boxes. Exploring how living habits test even the strongest family bonds, the play sees a daughter trying to help her mother clean her home before an impending inspection by the council. I was immersed in this one, deeply moved by Sophia Constantine’s strong physical presence and Genevieve Picot Long’s emotionally fragile turn as a chronic hoarder.
‘Home’ was the theme for 2015’s Big West Festival. Each performance I attended was an unfamiliar territory, exploring how people make themselves at home in different environments. It was eye-opening and humbling to see parts of my own town I’d never noticed were there, and I can’t wait to have that experience again next year.
Tom Bensley is a freelance writer in Melbourne who reviews anything he attends, watches or reads. It’s a compulsion, really. Follow him @TomAliceBensley.