Review: Strong Girl

Calm and precise authentic storytelling

By Owen James

Director and creator Nadja Kostich has been running weekly workshops with both indigenous and non-indigenous girls from years 10-12 at Worawa Aboriginal College in Healesville for over a year, taking their “stories of strength” and theatrically translating them into performance. For many of these girls, they are the first in their family to attend secondary school, English is not their first language, and some have left their home and community to be part of the college. Kostich has framed their stories with the 12 tests of strength from the classic Herculean myth, allowing their determination and resilience to shine on stage.

There are understandable nerves and hesitance in every young face here likely unfamiliar with the stage. Though they sometimes needing coaxing or reminding of what comes next, these twelve brave girls tell us what challenges them, tempts them, the many differing trials and tribulations they have overcome, and how they will thrive and survive into the future. It is a very personal journey – we the audience are privileged to hear their truths.

There are so many very simple but very clever devices used to theatricalise their storytelling, masterfully integrated by Nadja Kostich and the cast. Use of projection, material and choreographed gesture helps to engage us and physicalise their words. The stories are further enhanced with the set of beautiful sheer black sails by Emily Barrie, and evocative lighting by Rachel Burke and John Ford which fuses traditional par cans with futuristic neon bars hanging overhead. There is a very real depiction of these girls learning to “walk the two worlds” of the “parallel realities of Aboriginal lore and Western culture” (Kostich).

This hour of smooth and peaceful storytelling shines with authenticity, in a harmonious blend of tradition and modernity. Each individual Herculean feat is steeped in ritual, pride, and courage, which makes for a fascinating and important contemplation.

Runs until September 7th at St Martin’s Youth Theatre.