Playing to a packed out crowd on a Sunday evening, Anisa Nandaula’s new show ‘The Grass Is Dead On The Other Side’ was an important addition to the Wonderland Festival and promising debut of a new kind of performance for the champion slam poet.
It is not without room for improvement, but thanks to three larger-than-life performers, the show is for the most part mesmerising and moving.
Taking place in a post-apocalyptic world we follow two siblings Zumbi (Anisa Nandaula) and Pemulwuy (Adam Koudi) trying to survive not being turned into zombies by… Well, pretty much the white devil. Words are chosen pointedly, the villain is called The Awakening but this also may refer to the zombification of their whole village, a talisman is the source of power and a weakness for the The Awakening, and all his victims ever want is “peace”. The plight of zombie stories have a rich history of worlds destroyed, the heroes may survive but we know life will never be the same.
Having it stand in as a metaphor for genocide, corporate exploitation of resource-rich nations and the whitewashing of history and culture prove so apt that you wonder why it isn’t used more often. Given such strong themes it is interesting to note that the devil isn’t played as a subtle ingratiating character but a violent over-the-top figure. Actor Kayne Falkiner gives it his all, stomping across the stage (the beast would come with cloven hoof) a mix between peak Nicholas Cage and a depraved child playing with a new toy. As an unapologetically racist murderer you’ve got to hand it to him, simultaneously making the audience want to jump out of their chairs and throttle him while still getting them to laugh at his outbursts.
The heart of the story retains what matters most though, Anisa and Adam make us believe these two are siblings and love each other dearly. Pride in their heritage and protective instincts towards each other is what has kept them alive but also why they are positioned to fight an evil that seems all too powerful to defeat. As actors, Anisa gives her character so much spirit and Adam is so wonderfully sensitive you’re with them to the end.
With the use of pronounced movement, a few sound effects, and some bright lights and music it is amazing how sparse the production values implemented are, and yet how quickly one imagines a whole world. There is also some impressive use of stage fighting that drew cheers from the crowd. Pacing is an issue; the longer the play goes on the more we grow used to the repetition of cutting from our heroes to the villain then back again. Some scenes may go on a little too long as we become eager for the inevitable showdown and hopeful of its outcome. The ending is abrupt too and may need a coda, after all, no matter whether our heroes survive or not, can the world ever go back to the way it was before? The makers of this show clearly know the answer and would be able to articulate it in a beautiful and haunting way.
Still with such an engaging show, ‘The Grass Is Dead On The Other Side’ suggests the people behind it are only getting started and already audiences are enthralled.