A true story beautifully told
By Joana Simmons
“Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”– Martin Luther King Jr.
In Journey of a Thousand Smiles, Jessica Hackett takes thousands of steps of faith, bravery, compassion and wisdom. This show by Hackett and the 5pound Theatre Company presents the heart-rendering story of her walk from Melbourne to Canberra gathering signatures for a petition to give to the House of Representatives in the hopes that asylum seekers and refugees can finally be treated with dignity and respect. It’s a true tale told with beautiful raw emotion, cleverly crafted and interwoven with multimedia, music and charming audience involvement.
Jessica Hackett turned her anger at the Australian Government for the way they treat asylum seekers into a positive thing, and her story, as told in the show is equally delightful in the content as it is in the delivery. She is an endearing stage presence, and uses her dry conversational humour to help the audience members meet each other. The sparkle in her eye and smile on her face lights up the room, and she steps into our hearts from the get go. On a stage adorned with gum leaves, clad in an Akubra, Kathmandu shirt and backpack, she takes us on her journey across 35 days, 710 kilometers, and the gathering of 17,000 signatures. Colin Craig plays a great role accompanying her on the guitar, which subtly adds tone and brings the energy up as the story builds. I was especially impressed with all the wonderful theatrical moments cleverly thrown in to help lighten the mood around what is a very heavy issue. Jessica’s physical comedy as she acted out the silent film was particularly fantastic.
She pushed us as we sat in the dark listening to voiceovers of real stories of the asylum seekers she had met talking about their escape from their countries. She made us comfortable then uncomfortable showing 5 ways to make a person feel welcome or unwelcome: big bold and beautiful statements strongly made in a clever way. She bought up her real tears and emotion worrying that her cause was not going to make a difference, that she wasn’t smart enough or brave enough and it was all for nothing. It’s memorable and inspirational. I wanted to yell out “No Jess, keep going, you are doing an amazing thing!” and the audience was on her side as there were tears and sighs and stillness. She made us smile and gave us hope telling us with a look of joy about the generosity she was shown by all the people in the small country towns.
Director Jason Cavanagh has artistically transformed this remarkable story into a remarkable and wonderful show. I must also mention the lighting was used in one of the best ways I have seen in that space, adding first-rate dimension.
While for me, ‘There’s Nothing Like a Cabaret’ and I’m a stickler for comedy, choreography and costumes, this is one show that stands out from the rest in its own special way. Told by a very extraordinary person, who met some wonderful people and did a very powerful thing, it shows how theatre and art is a strong platform to initiate change. I am so happy I managed to catch A Journey of a Thousand Smiles at the end of its season; check out http://www.thewelcomepetition.com/ for more information and please see it next time it comes around.
Journey of a Thousand Smiles played at The Butterfly Club from 18-22nd January 2017