Review | Yirra Yaakin present ‘Panawathi Girl’ of our dreams

Panawathi Girl | His Majesty’s Theatre | til Feb 13 | ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ 

Panawathi Girl is a new production from Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company, making its premiere at His Majestys’ Theatre as part of the Perth Festival this week.

Developed over a number of years, Panawathi Girl is the story of Molly Chubb (Lila McGuire) a Perth uni student who heads home to the fictional Pilbara town of Chubb Springs to find out more about her mothers side of the family. She is desperate to connect with her family and her country, but finds herself frustrated by the implicit and explicit social rules of her town. These rules are emblematic of political struggles at a national level, struggles which are woven through the narrative with humour and grace at the hands of writer David Milroy.

McGuire is lovely as Molly, and manages to balance the academic knowledge of politics that drive some of the best lines in the play with a desperate longing for connection. She wants to fight for the human rights of her own people, but has been kept from learning who her people are by the racial divisions in town. By the end of course some of these connections are made, and other divisions are resolved. There is never a moment though that the audience is lulled into thinking that the discriminatory social rules and racial divisions of Chubb Springs belong only to that place, or even that time. With every line that may have a white audience thinking ‘well at least THAT doesn’t happen anymore’ Milroy sneaks in a contemporary reference that jolts the audience out of their self satisfied musings.

Indeed, in Panawathi Girl David Milroy has written some brilliantly observed political satire. The zenith was arguably the number Long White Sock which had a young man in the row behind me gasping at the audacity of the lines one minute and wheezing with laughter the next. The musicians are all on stage – a production choice that brings intimacy and vitality to the song and dance numbers.

Panawathi – the Palyku word for dream – is Molly’s middle name, gifted her by her mother so that they would always be close in their dreams. My own mother was my date for the night but is a little less poetic in nature. I was hesitant to ask for her opinion, given she described a recent outing to a big budget musical as ‘like watching a kids dance concert’, so I’m pleased to report she loved Panawathi Girl as much as I did.

Yirra Yaakin has brought culture and family to Perth Festival in Panawathi Girl, a must see musical for lovers of 1969 aesthetics, political satire and stirring music numbers.

Panawathi Girl will be staged at His Majesty’s Theatre until Sunday February 13. For tickets and more information, head to

Rebecca Bowman, image: Dana Weeks

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