Two young people feel inspired to understand the world through new eyes and decide to try out homelessness for a week. When they befriend a pair of genuinely destitute young people, the cruelty of their actions becomes apparent. This new Australian play about youth on the streets interrogates the misinformation and ill-feeling around homelessness from opposing perspectives.
Liviu Monsted’s new script sees the worlds of excess and need collide in an innocuous city street. Christian (Benn Spillane) and Fay (Talia Chenaye) are shallowly aware of their privilege and read about an experiment to reinvigorate their connection with the world by forgoing their house, technology, and money for a week. After their first night spent sprawled out in sleeping bags, they meet Foster (Stuart Oliver) and Miriam (Lucy Hadfield) who actually do not have access to safe housing, regular meals, or a steady income. Fay quickly realises the ignorance of her misstep in the face of Foster and Miriam’s hurt and feelings of betrayal that people who have everything they need would choose to “try-on” homelessness.
The major impact of this production is the juxtaposition of the two experiences of the world in the alternate pairs and the slow unravelling of Christian and Fay’s prejudices and assumptions about homeless people. Whereas Christian takes a smug and superior approach to Foster and Miriam’s circumstances, Fay is made aware of the realities of homelessness in a tender conversation with Miriam. Connecting through simple things like childhood memories and favourite colours allows Fay’s faux-philosophical lifestyle blogger attitude to fall away as she comes to understand the thin barrier between someone protected in society and someone who isn’t.
Hadfield gives a heartfelt performance as a young Miriam seemingly beaten into a timid and self-conscious personality. Against Chenaye’s brash and upright outlook, Hadfield is heartbreakingly vulnerable. Monsted’s direction strings out the events of the two nights into a mundane boredom representative of the limbo-esque position Miriam and Foster occupy. While the actors perform with a sense of compassion, there is slim opportunity to break through their hardened exteriors. Brief glimpses of a gentle humanity must suffice rather than a deep-dive into personal exposure, further emphasising the other ways in which the characters are exposed.
Set design from John Murrell depicts a grimy, graffitied streetscape with an unusual ornate lamppost that features prominently, almost personified, within the script. Unfortunately, the lighting design lets down the production with alternating states between warm and cold washes that appear seemingly indiscriminately throughout the scenes. The technical design was a missed opportunity to generate an evocative atmosphere around the otherwise realist script and set.
Inspired by the writer’s experience of witnessing homelessness in Sydney, Monsted hopes for “STREET to be an active force for good” so ten percent of the profits from ticket sales will be donated to Youth Off the Streets, a Sydney-based community organisation supporting disadvantaged young people.
Homelessness is an issue of neglect and invisibility for marginalised and vulnerable people within society. STREET forces a direct engagement with the circumstances of homelessness and the biases and prejudices that hang around its representation interpersonally and in the media.
STREET is running at Chippen St Theatre from September 25th – 28th as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival