Neighbourhood Watch. By Lally Katz. Directed by Kate Blackhurst. Theatre 3. Canberra Repertory Society. Until August 19. Bookings: 6257 1950 or canberrarep.org.au
It is gratifying to see that Canberra Rep has included a contemporary Australian drama by a leading woman playwright in this year's repertoire. Lally Katz's Neighbourhood Watch is an insightful drama about human relationships, set in Canberra between the 2007 and 2008 elections of Kevin Rudd and Barack Obama. Mary Street is home to an assortment of characters, who live out their lives largely oblivious to the people in their neighbourhood. Aspiring actress Catherine (Alex McPherson) and hopeful film-maker, Ken (Craig Battams) share a house next door to grandmother Belinda (Nikki-Lyn Hunter) and across from cantankerous widowed Hungarian immigrant Ana (Liz de Totth). Nearby Serbian resident Jovanka (Judi Crane) appears in an attempt to strike up a friendship with the indifferent Ana, who spurns Jovanka's requests to join her for a coffee. Instead, Ana turns to young Catherine, still pining for a former lover, to share the stories of her tumultuous life.
The power of Katz's play as directed by Kate Blackhurst lies in its authentic voice. Katz draws on personal experience to create familiar characters and dialogue that echo with resonating truthfulness. Rep's production lends the play an immediacy, as though the lives of the characters and their stories are unfolding with cinematic sequencing before our eyes. Hopes, dreams, fears and relationships are exposed through the interactions of the characters, who gradually come to a realisation that true character lies in their concern for their neighbours and their human need for companionship. Ana and Catherine are drawn inexplicably together but form a binding friendship that becomes the central core of Katz's commentary on neighbourliness. Catherine finds herself drawn into Ana's world through a series of flashbacks, played out upon Rep's revolving stage and revealing the circumstances that have formed Ana's nature. With the support of ensemble performers, the episodes of Ana's life reveal past influence in present experience.
Andrew Kay's open stage design with back-projected images of scenes and a revolve to create the play's flashback sequences avoids any unnecessary attempt to create a totally realistic setting, and focuses attention on the performances. Rep's production is worth seeing for the principal performances from de Totth, McPherson, Crane and Battams alone. There is good support from ensemble performers Tim Sekuless as a Hungarian gypsy singer and the Neighbourhood Watch policeman as well as Damon Baudin in the role of the former lover, Martin, and Lyn-Hunter.
On opening night, the spark took a while to ignite, and there were projection problems from the less experienced members of the ensemble. This did little to daunt de Totth's feisty, assertive European of hardy stock, Crane's sad and lonely migrant, stretching out in vain for the hand of friendship of de Totth's Ana, and McPherson's needy Catherine. The three women carry the show with characterisations that are instantly recognisable, and, like Katz's play, occasionally humorous, ultimately poignant and thought-provoking.