When confronted with the concept that in a maddened frenzy a man decides to salvage his lawnmower from an imminent blaze, the panic of the Black Saturday Bushfires becomes abruptly real. Ali Kennedy-Scott is an extraordinarily multitalented woman whose award-winning The Day The Sky Turned Black is both a humbling and uplifting experience. It’s a whirlwind of emotion, grief and optimism.
In her first solo-show as writer and performer, Ali uses interviews and accounts of the tragic firestorms as inspiration to demonstrate survivor’s guilt, arson guilt, loss of loved ones, moving on, and the charming innocence of a child. Everyone was affected in different ways, shown through the varied perspectives of four fictional characters and one verbatim character, reporter Heidi Tiltins.
Using a minimal set to keep attention on the chronicling dialogue, the space is well-used with areas designated to each character. Joe Lui’s lighting dramatically spotlights each as required, appropriately “blacking out” the rest of the stage.
Predominantly fluid and rapid, Ali morphs between each character by making minute changes, such as removing a jacket, adding a hat or shawl, and altering her hair. While these effectively pause the action, they don’t disrupt the gentle and consistent overall pace. The play progresses in a natural, chronological manner.
Breathing life into the young boy and an older woman is a standout achievement for Ali, her hugely diverse physical and verbal performance absorbing, endearing and inspired. The dialogue is believable, and the characters are easily relatable. Ali flawlessly embodies the thought that shared disaster surfaces the most basic of human kindness in people.
Composed by Pat Wilson, the sound completes the sobering atmosphere. News reports ranging from 6 February 2009 until 7 February 2010 and a familiar news opening sequence are ingeniously used as introductions and breaks in the performance. Only when the boy is portrayed is there more light-hearted music, providing a reprieve. The audience responded with affectionate amusement to his account of the events.
Well-deserved of its awards, The Day The Sky Turned Black wrestles with a mournful and sombre topic, and yet the impassioned Ali combines this with a heartfelt celebration of hope. The performance evokes empathy and acceptance of loss, while simultaneously arousing a strong sense of pride for the strength of communities and genuine human generosity. Ali and director Adrian Barnes highlight compassion where previously only misfortune was remembered.