Thursday, August 26, 2010

Jane Franklin: An Examined Life

Presented by Silkweed
Albert Hall, Thursday 26th August

Lady Jane Franklin serves as a figure of fascination as much as anyone in Tasmanian history. Unlike the fondly remembered bushrangers, she was a member of the establishment, but her reforming instincts have endeared her to a wide range of Tasmanians.
This is reflected in the way she continues to be commemorated in the arts. Richard Flanagan's most recent novel, Wanting, explored the darker, frustrated side of Lady Franklin's life: her relationship with the aboriginal girl Mathinna and her attempts to resurrect her husband's reputation following the unsavoury revelations that followed his final arctic voyage.

The musical ensemble Silkweed have taken a lighter touch. Whilst acknowledging the tragic notes that appear later in her life, Jane Franklin's story becomes a kind of parable of emancipation. Their multidisciplinary approach uses music, historical content, projected slides, dramatic re-enactments and extracts from Lady Franklin's journals to provide a short biographical journey; from her hunger for learning as a young woman, through her remarkable travels, her marriage to Sir John Franklin and the reforms she attempted to initiate in Van Diemen's Land.

In a performance such as this, it is difficult to balance these components effectively. While Sara Cooper, assisted by the quality of writing in the journals, brings the character of Jane Franklin to life, the other disciplines provide limited additional appreciation of their subject. Yes, the historical reflections set the journals in their context, but the songs trouble the pacing of the show and the writing and performance of the dramatic elements lack polish and depth.

The production could perhaps have been more successful with a more restrained approach. Focusing on the journals and historical components, with accompaniment from Silkweed's chamber-folk style music, may have made for a more reflective performance.

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