M’AP BOULÉ – Darlinghurst Theatre (NSW)
Lead artist, writer & performer Nancy Denis
Reviewed by Juliana Payne
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Urban Theatre Project at the Darlinghurst Theatre 6th – 9th December (No show Thursday 8 December)Auslan Show Friday 9 December Tickets: https://www.darlinghursttheatre.com/mapboule
Photo Credit: Jacquie Manning
M’ap Boulé means “I’m on fire!” in Haitian Krèole, and Nancy Denis and her co-performers lit up the stage last night, delivering us a tasty melting pot of music, song, laughs, anger, and tears, from the heart and soul of Nancy herself. It was like an especially top-notch lucky dip – you never knew who or what was going to manifest on the stage next… could it be Aretha? Beyonce? Adele? Meshell Ndegeocello? Then again it could be some postmodern spoken word poetry slam? Or some stand up comedy mixed with heart-rending confessional stuff, or even some hip hop? At the end of the night the audience showed it didn’t matter what Nancy and the crew did, they loved it all – with a standing ovation.
Nancy Denis’ rich soaring contralto voice was perfectly suited to all the song styles she gave us, from gospel, to funk, rap, R&B, and deep dark auto-songs, drawing on her ancestors and their stories to blend with her family’s origin tales and her not uncomplicated life as a Haitian-Australian. She delivers a one-woman musical, moving from joyful emotional heights to sorrow and pain, and then back again to the top with a rousing gospel revival. Denis does justice to composer Carl St. Jaques’ songs. Musical director Victoria Falconer and musician Mick Stuart are multiskilled and talented. Their music helps to fill the theatre space with love, joy and a fair touch of irony and bittersweet longing, but no regrets.
There’s plenty of comedy in between, as Nancy gives us the Full Monty as she satirises clueless white people and culture for the pain and absurdity it inflicts on non-white cultures. She plays out all the cliches and assumptions, exposing their empty baseless skeletons. Her cheeky ready smile, hilarious accents and easy laugh ease the way into her critique of the many sins of white colonialism – Nancy Denis should be on the national curriculum.
Co performer Kween G acts as a kind of Greek chorus at times, a witness at other times, and when she’s performing gives us a goodly serve of her unique and edifying hip hop. The chemistry between G and Denis is engaging and adds warmth and richness to the show. Lighting designer Karen Norris makes excellent use of the Eternity Theatre’s great lighting fit out, transporting us from deeply intimate scenes to stadium-style spectacular. Dramaturg Liza-Mare Syron and director Anthea Williams may like to tighten up some of the monologues, which can at times stretch out in a way that only Nancy’s innate charm can rescue.
I read with dismay the bleak news yesterday that Australia’s number one podcast on Spotify at the moment is Joe Rogan – but when you see that Nancy Denis and Kween G are there too, and while performers like them are out there, it gives us a large hopeful morale boost that all is not yet lost in the culture wars.
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Lead Artist, Writer and Performer – Nancy Denis
Composer- Carl St. Jacques
Dramaturg- Liza-Mare Syron
Director- Anthea Williams
Musical Director- Victoria Falconer
Musician- Mick Stuart
Performer- Kween G
Costume/Set Designer– Maitê Inaê
Creative Producer– Verónica Barac-Gomez
Lighting Designer– Karen Norris
Lighting Operator– Annika Bertinat
Sound Engineer– Annika Unsen
Community Engagement– Gabriella Appau