Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney
January 10, 2018

“There is a Fire, a bright flame that was lit in the past, it is still burning but the woods are burning out. My job is to put new woods in to keep the Fire burning.” The words of Adhi Ephraim Bani Jnr, the seventh chief of Wagadagam, Mabuiag Island in the Torres Strait, underpin this wonderfully playful, heartfelt and important piece of story-telling by his grandson Jimi Bani (soon to become the ninth chief of Wagadagam) and co-creator Jason Klarwein. My Name is Jimi, premiered by Queensland Theatre in Cairns last year and now playing at Belvoir St Theatre as part of the Sydney Festival, puts four generations of the Bani family on stage, inviting the audience into their world with a multimedia collage of music, theatre and dance.

My Name is JimiJimi Bani, Petharie Bani, Agnes Bani, Conwell Bani and Richard Bani in My Name is Jimi. Photo © Daniel Boud

Bani – whose television credits include The Straits, Mabo and Redfern Now, and whose appearances at Belvoir have included Yibiyung, The Sapphires and Peter Pan – is a charismatic host and he’s joined by his brothers Conwell and Richard, his mother Agnes, grandmother Petharie and his 15-year-old son Dmitri Ahwang-Bani.

Drawing on the lore passed down from his father, Adhi Dimple Bani, and his grandfather, Bani tells the stories of his home, touching on the history of the Torres Strait islands (he puts in a gently mocking turn as British biologist and anthropologist Alfred Cort Haddon), the languages and customs (quizzing the audience on the words they’ve learnt) as well as contemporary life on the Torres Strait Islands.

My Name is JimiMy Name is Jimi. Photo © Daniel Boud

The stories of his home are also the stories of his family. Bani’s grandfather Adhi Ephraim Bani Jnr was a linguist and polymath, receiving a Masters degree in Canada (in a time when such opportunities weren’t available for Indigenous Australians in Australia), revolutionising the written representation of his language, and, alongside his wife Petharie, campaigning to repatriate cultural objects held in museums around the world. His love of film and his belief that technology could be harnessed to both preserve and promote Wagadagam culture and allow it to flourish infuses My Name is Jimi. Spun throughout this show is the importance of – and challenges inherit in – teaching and maintaining language and cultural practice in an ever-changing, post-colonial world.

My Name is JimiMy Name is Jimi. Photo © Daniel Boud

Petharie and Agnes, seated on the stage for much of the show, share their wisdom with quiet dignity, three different languages passing between the performers, while Bani’s brothers provide everything from stage props to comic relief and finally familial support in the passing on of knowledge to Dmitri, who – with his iPod – represents the next generation.

Aside from a welcome mat, rolled out by Agnes Bani at the show’s opening, the stage is largely unset – props are wheeled on and off – but the improvised feel belies a carefully and cleverly crafted presentation. Bani is an enthusiastic teacher, eager to share his knowledge and stories with the audience, his magnetic stage presence such that the piece is no less compelling when the lights come up for a quick memory test.

My Name is JimiMy Name is Jimi. Photo © Daniel Boud

Cardboard cut-outs and beautifully wrought dioramas of island scenes – created by Italian designers Simona Cosentini and Simone Tesorieri – are used to charming (and occasionally terrifying) effect, captured in real-time through the lens of a hand-held camera and writ large on a screen above the stage, bringing to life spoken stories and songs. Justin Harrison’s sound and projection design enhances the drama and impact of the show even further. The music spans disco and 90s street rap – a sanitised version of Straight Outta Compton keeps the show family friendly – to traditional Torres Strait Islander songs and dances.

While there were a few moments when the pace slackened a little – the format is loose enough to allow for a degree of flexibility and audience interaction – the show is entertaining throughout and ultimately deeply moving. My Name is Jimi is an inventive and powerful piece of theatre, with plenty of humour, hinging on Jimi Bani’s consummate, warm-hearted story-telling. Enchanting for all ages, it’s impossible to leave the theatre unaffected by this story.

My Name is Jimi is at Belvoir St Theatre as part of the Sydney Festival until January 21