In the black space of Carriagework’s Bay 20 is a woman. A chair. A collection of wicker baskets. An overhead projector. A Computer. A collection of props: lace, flowers, shoes. Scattered in clumps of colour. Heavy black curtains are drawn at the back of space. Lights shoot across the space. The audience scuffs in, some of them chatting, some still wrapped up in scarves- it’s a cold night, some audience members are silently staring at the woman as she fiercely gazes out into the auditorium- two assistants encircling her- positioning her. Folding and unfolding. Dressing. And undressing her. Tilting her head. Moving her hands. Forcing her to tap her foot. There is music playing- the sort that sounds like a female crooner- torch songs- epic love ballads about thwarted romances, broken hearts, longing and survival- one I don’t recognise- I don’t recognise the songs. It’s music from the Phillipines I don’t understand the lyrics. I don’t need to. I understand the feeling.

First conceived in 2002, The Folding Wife is a production which has been developed by Urban Theatre Projects over several years, toured to several locations and harnesses the talents of several people. Originally deeloped in 2007, this production has been remounted for a national tour, for which the Sydney leg, is it’s second last stop before it arrives in Melbourne next week.

The story traces three generations of Filipino women- Clara, Delores and Grace- their strength, their pride, their adaptability. Born out of the concept that the Filipino wife folds, adapts to their husbands- are supplementary to the needs of their husbands – The Folding Wife speaks of the adaptability of women- and in particular what it means to yearn, search and grow beyond your cultural heritage- to look beyond and aspire to break free from the everyday expectation of what a woman, what a wife is- what a person is.

It’s slippery terrain- it could so easilly slip into another “worthy” migrant story. It could easilly slip into the romanticisation of the east or “home.” But it’s not. This story is more than a cliche, or a cautionary tale about racism, or a hard luck story. Or a rags to riches story. It is more than any of that. More than your expectations. It is beautiful. It is honest. It is heartfelt. It is confronting. It sneaks in, charms you with two large dark eyes. I search for words that fit. It is amusing, painful. Simple. Tightly woven. Economical. Astute. Visually rich. Poetic. Inventive- elegant.

Valerie Berry moves through characters, time and space with boundless energy, a clear bright voice and a litheness which is hypnotic. She is the very essence of adaptability- she folds into one character, then another- who folds into what ever role necessary- the grand matriarch- the excited school girl waiting to meet Emelda Marcos, the seductive mother flirting with her Australian beau.

Supported by Datu Arellano and Teta Tulay of Manila’s Anino Shadowplay Collective- the piece cycles randomly through chapters- with shadowplay, projection complimenting the scene- building collages of light- texture, words, animation around, through, ontop Berry as the story unfolds.

Writer Paschal Daantos Berry, has written an astute and resonating story- which goes beyond geographical boarders- and gender. Director Deborah Pollard has done an exemplary job, and has orchestrated a show which balances hi and lo tech aspects of multi media – has put the character and the cultural politics in firm view without being didactic or righteous. Pollard is a dramaturgical master- and the structure of the piece is exquisite. Her directing is inventive and intelligent without being pretentious or indulgent.

This is an exquisite piece of contemporary performance which everyone should see- because it is simple, elegant, entertaining and
brimming with beauty.

The Folding Wife |Performance Space, Carriageworks until Saturday May 22, and ArtsHouse, Melbourne from May 26 – 29