Little Black Bastard was first performed at the La Mama Courthouse in 2003 before being published in book form and touring the world. This May, it returns to 349 Drummond Street as part of La Mama’s 50th Birthday Celebration.
Writer and performer Noel Tovey, now 83 (or 85), is Australia’s first indigenous ballet dancer and an actor, singer, choreographer and director who made his name in England and America. In 2000 he received the Indigenous Fellowship to write Little Black Bastard (published in 2004 by Hachette) and in 2015, he was awarded the Order of Australia. He is an advocate for Indigenous and LGBTQIA rights and returned to Australia after living abroad for years.
Little Black Bastard is his devastating and deeply moving monologue inspired by his return to Melbourne and a ride on the 57 tram, passed a childhood’s fill of bad memories.
Tovey, a magnetic and enthralling speaker, leads the audience through a 1930s and ’40s childhood marked by poverty, racism, abuse and violence. He speaks frankly, voice full of emotion, about his mother’s drinking, the sexual violence he suffered, his life on the streets, his stint as a male sex worker, his imprisonment at Pentridge for buggery when he was only 17, and his struggle to overcome the lifetime of oppression that stood between him and his dreams of becoming a performer.
It is a remarkable and gripping story, told in the very same Courthouse where, at five years old, Tovey was taken away from his parents and into state care. It is a story permeated with the geography of Melbourne, an intensively moving exploration of the ghosts that still haunt this city and the dark history underneath the new renovation.
Tovey, in his beautifully modulated tone (he studied elocution as a child, determined not to sound like an Australian), is unwaveringly honest in his account, telling his story with candour and great dignity, interwoven with dry humour and wry wit. In his 80s, Tovey performs with a walking frame and the slow movements of senescence but he has lost none of his stage presence. He is a captivating storyteller and a natural raconteur which are on full display in this event. Little Black Bastard is an important work of cultural and historical significance.
Written and performed by Noel Tovey
Directed by Robina Beard
Research, personal assistance and stage management by Cali Vandyke-Dunleavy
Produced by Bec Etchell
Original set design by Richard Roberts
Image by Michael Brogan