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Fringe review: I Don’t Want to Play House

Adelaide Fringe

Pakana woman Tammy Anderson offers an unflinching glimpse of a contemporary Australian childhood riddled with domestic and substance abuse in a performance that is both stirring and hopeful. ★★★★ ½

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Actor, director and playwright Tammy Anderson has appeared in Australian films including The Sapphires, Boxing Day and The Warriors, but she is just as comfortable on stage as she is on screen.

In I Don’t Want to Play House, presented at Tandanya, she embodies the characters who shaped her childhood: siblings, her grandmother, her mother and her string of boyfriends, and neighbours.

The script follows Anderson’s as she grows up in a mixed-race family in Tasmania. It explores her mother’s stream of physically abusive boyfriends, issues with substance abuse and her familial relationships.

The one-woman show begins with Anderson singing a Western song. On this particular night, she struggles with some parts of the tune – she clearly has a cold – but still handles it well.

Anderson jumps between characters with confidence, taking her audience from incredibly uncomfortable places to moments of sheer joy. Embodying her grandmother, she is hunched and cheeky, before quickly standing tall and adopting the domineering persona of her father.

She revisits the moment where she was told she was Aboriginal, and the names she was called. “I am an Aboriginal!” Anderson cheers as she darts across the stage of Tandanya – Australia’s oldest Aboriginal-owned and managed multi-arts centre. But, she explains, her mother is white.

With a white mother and black father, Anderson was racially vilified by Caucasians yet not considered black enough to be involved in some Indigenous activities. These complicated dynamics enrich the script and speak to the heart of Australia’s history with race.

The play’s language is incredibly colloquial and Anderson doesn’t shy away from graphic content. She also isn’t afraid to break the fourth wall and speak directly to her audience, asking the front row questions and calling out some teens who arrived to the production late and then proceeded to leave early.

Anderson speaks in images, describing places in Tasmania and Victoria with piercing detail and warmth. She sings Western tunes from the likes of Dolly Parton (who she still loves). She is loud and blunt, quiet and fierce – she doesn’t hold back. She draws more than one tear from her audiences’ eyes.

By penning this play, Anderson explains, she is taking steps to break the cycle of abuse her mother endured and hopefully showing her children and grandchildren what a great role model looks like in the process.

I Don’t Want to Play House was presented at Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute.

See more Adelaide Fringe and Festival stories and reviews here.

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