Review | The Lion Never Sleeps is an essential work for this moment

The Lion Never Sleeps | The Blue Room & Northbridge | Until 1st Feb | ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 

They say our past will come back to haunt us. But they forget to mention that, sometimes, being haunted can be a beautiful experience. The Lion Never Sleeps is such a beautiful haunting. It’s an incredible work, a walking tour that brings together oral histories, participatory performance art, celebratory silent disco-ness, eulogies and queer activism. Such potency is what we, as a community, need right now.

At its core, this work is a monument and homage to the AIDS crisis of Perth, Western Australia, and the impact it had on our LGBTIQA+ community. Now, that might be quite a heavy premise for a work to tackle, and it is. But what you have to remember is that for all the loss and grief and heartache that accompanied AIDS, there was also a tonne of resilience, strengthening of community and dancing.

So once you don your silent disco headphones, what begins is an oration from creator and director Noemie Huttner-Koros. It should be noted that Huttner-Koros is a brilliant poet and writer, so their introduction has a sublime soaring spirit. It should also be noted that they are also a darn good interviewer, because the interview subjects share an array of insights into what it meant to be POC, trans, queer, lesbian and gay during the 80s and 90s here in Northbridge. Local legends such as Janet Carter, Mark Reid, Carl Gopalkrishnan, Sandra Hayes, Claire Bushby and Dr Matthew Jackson all lend their voices to this project.

It’s a story from local poet Colin Young that has the most potency in regards to the staging of this work. Young tells the story of the final night of The Red Lion, how after it closed all the patrons carried a coffin from The Red Lion to Connections, walking in a solemn fashion. On hearing this, you realise that The Lion Never Sleeps is paying tribute to this moment of our shared history: the entire work has a slow walking pace, one where every footfall is paying honour and respect to all those we have lost.

The audio also plays heavily on this notion of making the past present again. The oral histories have been recorded in a variety of settings, from busy cafes to parks to the very streets of Northbridge. As such, there are moments when the ghosts of coffee machines, people strutting past and phantom birds all suddenly spark back into existence, making you feel as though you are surrounded by memories of how Northbridge is during the day. But more than that, the audio strips back the polished gentrification of our inner city to reveal the trace of a place that was once filled with joy, queer community and ever-present danger.

Other than Janet Carter’s Transmission, there really hasn’t been anything like The Lion Never Sleeps at this year’s Fringe that specifically holds up the history of our LGBTIQA+ community with such reverence. If you can, grab a ticket to this show. It is so brilliantly nuanced and respectful that you find yourself awash with emotion. And if that doesn’t warm your heart, then the impromptu dancing certainly will. Congratulations to the entire team of The Lion Never Sleeps – you have created a work that is essential, necessary and important for this moment in time.

See The Lion Never Sleeps until Saturday 1st February.

Scott-Patrick Mitchell (SPM) is a non-binary performance poet and writer with over 20 years review experience. SPM appears in Contemporary Australian Poetry, won the 2019 Wollongong Short Story Prize and has created such stage works as The 24 Hour Performance Poem.

Photo:- Georgi Ivers, Graphic Design:- Michelle Aitken

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