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BWW REVIEW: NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH's Tale Of Connection And Community Is Even More Striking In These Socially Distanced Times

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NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH

BWW REVIEW: NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH's Tale Of Connection And Community Is Even More Striking In These Socially Distanced Times

Friday 11th September 2020, New Theatre

Sydney's New Theatre becomes one of the first Australian theatres to reopen with social distancing precautions with their production of Lally Katz's NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH. Under Louise Fischer's direction, this story of the importance of human connection is presented at a time when communities have not been able to come together and many are feeling the struggle of social isolation.

BWW REVIEW: NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH's Tale Of Connection And Community Is Even More Striking In These Socially Distanced Times
Photo: Chris Lundie

NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH, set in suburban Sydney between Kevin Rudd's 2007 election win and Barak Obama's 2009 election win, focuses on the unlikely friendship between two of the residents of Mary Street. Elderly Ana (Colleen Cook) is a paranoid prickly Hungarian widow who manages to alienate everyone she meets with obnoxious overbearing self-confidence and off-putting self-importance as she bosses neighbour Katrina (Tricia Youlden) and avoids former neighbour Jovanka's (Susan Jordan) attempts at kindness. Catherine (Kelly Robinson) is a 20 something unemployed aspiring actress obsessed watching her weight and waiting out the front of the home she shares with flatmate friend Ken (Stephen Lloyd-Coombs) for a phone call. While Catherine takes pity on the old woman, Ana takes it upon herself to 'coach' Catherine on correcting what she sees as her 'failings'. NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH is a look into the relatable relationship with a good dose of surreal journeys down memory lane to Ana's past.

BWW REVIEW: NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH's Tale Of Connection And Community Is Even More Striking In These Socially Distanced Times
Kelly Robinson as Catherine and Colleen Cook as Ana Photo: Chris Lundie

Set designer Tom Bannerman presents a stylised representation of suburbia with painted picket fences dividing the stage and suspended from the rafters. Ana and Catherine's domestic spaces are represented with the economy of minimal furniture while other locations are indicated by items on shelves at side stage and rearrangement of simple stools. Claudia Lafoy's costuming assist with the progress of time and the transitions between reality and Ana's memories of war time Hungary whilst also reinforcing the ages and attitudes of the core characters. Mehran Mortezaei's lighting takes the work from suburbia to memories and even a movie theatre.

BWW REVIEW: NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH's Tale Of Connection And Community Is Even More Striking In These Socially Distanced Times
Colleen Cook as Ana and Caitlin Williams as Woolies Employee Photo: Chris Lundie

The stand out performance comes from Kelly Robinson's portrayal of Catherine as she gives the young woman a level of realism to ensure that she is believable and therefore relatable so the audience wants to hear her story and hopes she finds happiness. She captures the gentle politeness of a young woman bought up to be nice to their elders whilst also dealing with her own demons quietly. Robinson's heartfelt honesty is matched by Stephen Lloyd-Coombs's presentation of aspiring filmmaker and multiplayer online game addict Ken as he ensures the quiet care and concern simmers below the surface of the hidden affection for his flatmate while his exterior shows the façade of nerd and obsessive.

BWW REVIEW: NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH's Tale Of Connection And Community Is Even More Striking In These Socially Distanced Times
Susan Jordan as Jovanka, Coleen Cook as Ana and Kelly Robinson as Catherine Photo: Chris Lundie

Colleen Cook captures the stereotypical image of a nosey neighbour who believes she knows what is best for everyone around her. At first her performance seems too stilted but she eventually settles into the right balance of expressing someone for whom English is a second language and social sensitivities is still a foreign concept but Katz's writing of the character leaves the old woman as too unlikable and abrupt to be redeemed when her secrets are unearthed. The characters that surround Ana's current world draw more sympathy as they continue to try to be nice to challenging neighbour.

BWW REVIEW: NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH's Tale Of Connection And Community Is Even More Striking In These Socially Distanced Times
Photo: Chris Lundie

At a time when people around the world are dealing with the challenge of not always being allowed to meet in person and are forced to find new ways to stay in contact, NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH serves as a reminder to reach out to those that may be even more isolated than normal. While Ana and Catherine have each held on to their own secrets that have caused them to distance themselves from the people around them there is a relatability as people may be further isolated as the challenges of restrictions play with mental health and motivation as the casual social interactions are removed.

BWW REVIEW: NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH's Tale Of Connection And Community Is Even More Striking In These Socially Distanced Times
Kelly Robinson as Catherine and Stephen Lloyd-Coombs as Ken Photo: Chris Lundie

For those concerned with returning to viewing theatre in the current climate, the measures that New Theatre's team have put into place made me feel comfortable that preventative steps had been put in place to protect patrons. Upon arrival, the audience are allowed to take their seats straight away so there is no congregating in the foyer. Traffic in and out of the auditorium has a one way flow and occupancy levels for each show are such that there is sufficient space for patrons to select socially distanced seats.

https://newtheatre.org.au/neighbourhood-watch/

NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH

BY Lally Katz

8 SEPTEMBER - 3 OCTOBER 2020

Photos: Chris Lundie


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