By Ursula Yovich and Alana ValentineDramaCurrency Press, in association with Belvoir

Barbara and the Camp Dogs

I want to be extreme
Unreasonably rude
I like to spit and scream
Inappropriately crude
I drink St Agnes Brandy
In a paper cup with ice
And when I’m feeling randy
Don’t expect me to be nice

High maintenance me
Real piece of work you see
A troublesome stunt
Instincts of a …

Wild, unpredictable, and deeply vulnerable, Barbara and her sister René are singing for their lives. Barbara’s been trying to make it in Sydney, but when their mother’s health deteriorates, the sisters embark on a pilgrimage back home to country. Full of painful, unfinished business for Barbara, their return sends her into a downward spiral.

Can Barbara find a way to resolve the past in time to preserve love in the only family she has known?

Through music that ranges from punk-inspired explosions of rage, to tender rock and soul ballads full of yearning, Barbara and the Camp Dogs is a gob-spit of fun, frenzy and family that finds beauty in honesty and hope in confronting the past.

Portrait of Ursula Yovich and Alana Valentine

Ursula Yovich and Alana Valentine

Ursula Yovich is a multi-award-winning actor of stage and screen. Notable feature film credits include Wayne Blair’s Top End Wedding, Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, Ivan Sen’s Goldstone and Ray Lawrence’s Jindabyne. Small screen credits include The Code, Devil’s Dust, Redfern Now, The Gods of Wheat Street and most recently, the third series of Wanted. Ursula is the voice of ‘Levi’ in the NITV/SBS children’s animated TV series, Little J & Big Cuz, on which she is also a writer. Since making her theatre debut at Belvoir, Ursula has worked for all the major theatre companies including Black Swan, STC, Queensland Theatre, MTC, Deckchair, Griffin, Yirra Yaakin Theatre and Bell Shakespeare.

For nearly a decade between 2008 and 2017, Ursula intermittently toured Australia and internationally with the musicians of Black Arm Band. Ursula has written and will perform in The Man With the Iron Neck which was staged in 2018 at the Brisbane Festival, and Barbara and the Camp Dogs, the work Ursula starred in and co-wrote with Alana Valentine, premiered at Belvoir and was nominated for an AWGIE award in 2018.

In addition to Barbara and the Camp Dogs, Alana Valentine has worked with Ursula for Barefoot Divas and Dubboo: Life of a Songman. As dramaturg, Alana worked with Bangarra Dance Theatre on Dark Emu, Bennelong, Patyegarang and ID (from Belong). Her play Head Full of Love toured Australia (Drover Award 2016) donating $60K in to the Waltja Tjutangku Palyapayi Purple House for a mobile dialysis unit.

Recent work includes The Sugar House (Belvoir 2018), Ear to the Edge of Time (Sport for Jove and Seymour 2018), Letters to Lindy (Merrigong National Tour 2018) and Ladies Day (Griffin Theatre 2016). In 2019, Made To Measure will be produced at Seymour. Alana is the recipient of a Fellowship at the Charles Perkins Centre. Barbara and the Camp Dogs was nominated in the Sydney Theatre Awards for Best New Australian Work and Best Original Score. www.alanavalentine.com

Judges’ report

The muscular theatricality of Barbara and the Camp Dogs by Ursula Yovich and Alana Valentine is evident from the first page. It immediately puts us into the reality of touring bands – a reality described as ‘a continual space of ugly beer-stained carpets, worn and battered bar furniture and the tangle of microphone stands, leads and foldback boxes’. Here we find the Camp Dogs, who play the songs that punctuate the show, and Indigenous rock chick, Barbara, and her sister, René.

The writing is direct, sure and accomplished, both in its larger dramaturgy and its emotional and linguistic details. Shifting between songs and dialogue, we follow the story of the two sisters, who hustle a living as gigging musicians. When we meet them they are trying to raise the money for a ticket to Darwin to visit their dying mother in hospital. As we follow René and Barbara through their various, often hilarious, adventures, it becomes clear that both of them, but particularly Barbara, are deeply scarred by the trauma that stems from Australia’s colonisation, the ‘cruelty of the system’. The sisters’ relationship is vividly and unsentimentally drawn: René, who is always the mother to Barbara’s raging child, can finally bear it no more, and Barbara is forced to face her own denials and her own her pain. Barbara and the Camp Dogs is a searingly honest work that depicts a howl of rage without itself becoming inarticulate.

Extract

ST AGNES (Underscore) begins.

RENÉ              The road from Darwin to Katherine is a long, very straight line so whenyouget to the Adelaide River Inn, you hit the Diggers Bistro with your tongue dragging across the hot asphalt and the prospect of air-conditioning and a cold beer is the only thing on yourmind.

The action ‘moves’ to the heat and sound of Adelaide River. 

BARBARA       Wait.

RENÉ                What?

BARBARA       She must be in there.

RENÉ                Who?

BARBARA       Stella Cole.

RENÉ                Who?

BARBARA       Stella Cole. Use your brain.

RENÉ                Don’t tell me to use my brain, Barbara, when I’m standing in the full sun. Use your own fucking brain so we can go in and have a beer.

ST AGNES (Underscore) ends.

BARBARA       No, we can’t. She must be in there. 

RENÉ                Well unless she has a history of biting I’m going in.

BARBARA       No. She was the one. When I was going out with, what was his name, Cake Boy, from Alice Springs and she stole him from me.

RENÉ                Cake boy?

BARBARA       Yeah … He could make me cream up, that one!

RENÉ                Barbara.

BARBARA       It’s true! Anyways … She stole him from me and then came round to Mum’s place with a spear and she was saying 'don’t let that cunt near me because I’ll fuckin’ spear her. Try and take my man!’

RENÉ                (Realizing) Stella Cole, with the stellar hole.

BARBARA       It’s her car. I know it’s her car. Nailfile?

Barbara goes over to Stella’s imaginary car.

RENÉ                 What are you doing?

BARBARA       What’s it look like? This is my chance. She’s the one gave me my first charge for drunk and disorderly you know. It was this cow. Here, help me out. Don’t wanna get caught, that bitch is bony athletic, you get hit by her and you’d feel it. Wild, wire-y, unpredictable. But she took my man and that’s it between us. I’m not going in there to see her.

Barbara bends down and puts the ‘file’ onto the ‘tyre’ and makes a hissing sound. 

BARBARA       Ssssssssh. (Repeat all through René’s speech)

ST AGNES (Underscore) begins. 

RENÉ                So one hundred and twelve kilometres on a hack and we can’t even get up close with a cooling ale because of an old rivalry. You know, that’s life with Barbara, yeah. We stand there in the blazing heat, letting the air out of all four tyres. (BEAT) So you gonna leave a note? 

BARBARA       What?

RENÉ                 Well you want her to know it’s you don’t you?

BARBARA        You think?

RENÉ                  I don’t know, Barbara. Way I remember it she dumped that boy from Alice and you made it up with her. 

BARBARA        Shit. We did. We made it up. Oh well, too late now.

RENÉ lets down the other two tyres. 

ST AGNES

BARBARA       (SINGS)
I want to be extreme
Unreasonably rude
I like to spit and scream
Inappropriately crude
I drink St Agnes Brandy
In a paper cup with ice
And when I’m feeling randy
Don’t expect me to be nice

Highmaintenance me
Real piece of work you see
A troublesome stunt
Instincts of a …

ST AGNES continues (Underscore).

RENÉ                The closer we get to Katherine I can feel Barbara … She’s like this tight ball vibrating, buzzing, growing. Unable to hold still. It’s the ghosts you see … all the memories whispering and crowding in on her.

BARBARA       I need to take a piss! 

RENÉ                So we pull over. She takes a piss. We head off again. Then she wants to stop at Pine Creek, we do. She wants to stop at Edith Falls, we do. Beautiful, calm, great, surely now we’re ready to see Mum, I think, as we catch our first sight of the Katherine River.

BARBARA       Yeah and that fuckin’ sign ‘Welcome to Katherine, the home of Cadel Evans’. (To the audience) Like, who?! My face, my hair, my skin feels like it’s been dipped in chill-flavoured bull dust.

ST AGNES (CONTINUES)

BARBARA       (SINGS)
I want to be chaos
Unseasonably cold
And in any playoff
Irrationally bold
I drink wine distilled with anger
A chaser of pure spite
And the thing that they can’t take handle
Is my ugly, raging fight

High maintenance me
Real piece of work see
A troublesome stunt
Instincts of a cunt
 

I am out of control
I am so out of control
I am way way out of control
I am spinning and whirling and hurtling out of control
I am massively out of control
So so so out of the stratosphere of
control Not in control
Just not in control
I am way way way way out out out out of control.

High maintenance me
Real piece of work you see
A troublesome stunt
Instincts of a ...

BARBARA       Cunt! Smells like cattle. Like buffalopoo.

RENÉ                 Like frangipani and dust and Rid Insect Repellent.

BARBARA       Hey let’s go to the pub, let’s see if we can get a gig, let’s see who we know...

RENÉ                 I want to go and see Mum.

BARBARA       We’ll pull in at Woolies first.

RENÉ                 Nah, I want to go straight out to the hospital.

BARBARA        I want to get something at the chemist, alright.

RENÉ                 What?

BARBARA        I don’t want to say.

RENÉ                 Barbara. There’s nothing you need to stick up your nose, throw down your throat or shove up your boodg that I don’t know about.

BARBARA       Yeah, well, you don’t know about this. Who wants to say what they want to get at a chemist? It’s private. ‘The relationship with your pharmacist’. I’m going to Woolies. I’ll meet you out there.

RENÉ                 Hey, it’s great that we’re both here for her, Barbara, it’s really great that you’ve come. You’re really taking responsibility now.

BARBARA       What do you mean by that? You saying I’ve never bothered to step up before?

RENÉ                 No, I was just saying that it’s good that you’re here now. Don’t be defensive, it’s very adult.

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlist