Mary St is a perfectly ordinary suburban street with perfectly ordinary residents. The only thing missing is perhaps a bit of community spirit, the comfort of having someone keeping an eye on your business. But when two relative newbie neighbours strike up a friendship, the close quarters create more friction than expected.
Both Ana (Colleen Cook) and Catherine (Kelly Robinson) moved to Mary St about a year ago and both of them would rather not talk about what brought them here. Catherine’s housemate and friend Ken (Stephen Lloyd-Coombs) is growing concerned about her odd compulsions; always staring at her phone, ironing everything in sight, and never eating. Across the road, Ana is starting to overstretch the boundaries of neighbourly kindness. When Ana and Catherine begin to get to know each other over a cup of coffee, it seems Ana has a lot to teach her naive new friend about the cruelty and deceptions of the world.
Lally Katz’s script is, on the surface, a suburban drama with the typical nosy gossip and petty disputes but underneath lurks something mystical and mysterious and very possibly dangerous. Louise Fischer’s direction emphasises the unstable ground of the script by stepping from reality into memories, dream worlds, and the afterlife without missing a beat. Elements of the technical design also worked well to create a dreamy, transparent atmospherics. Lighting design from Mehran Mortezaei used mixtures of greens and blues and dappled lighting effects to transform the large New Theatre stage into busy Budapest market streets, a war zone, and a bright Sydney afternoon. The set, designed by Tom Bannerman, also made good use of the space by transferring the picket fences of Mary St to the ceiling and using a swivelling fence-line as the key piece of ground infrastructure. Because the script moved so freely between locations in space and time, the simple and elegantly choreographed set resonated without adding distraction or confusion.
Cook’s Ana was pitch perfect; maintaining an air of mystery and intrigue to her complicated backstory while also characterising her as a straight-forward woman with a quick tongue. She appears as a kind of Hungarian witch, able to transport her pupil Catherine into her own memories and living with a sixth-sense for terrible sadness. Catherine is played by Robinson as a wispy, unsettled young woman in need of direction; something Ana is more than happy to provide. The two balance each other well and have a pleasant dynamic that holds the weight of the narrative easily.
Other stand-out performances came from Lloyd-Coombs as the self-deprecating and MMRPG-addicted friend who added a light charisma to the heavier emotional aspects of the production and Susan Jordan as Jovanka, Ana’s ex-neighbour and relentless visitor. Jovanka is an odd character, easily underplayed, but Jordan hinted at something tantalisingly unsaid with each entrance and exit which couldn’t go unnoticed. Harry Taylor also gave surprisingly versatile performances as a chill delivery man, an injured soldier, and a serial killer, which showed off his range and bolstered the background moments of the narrative.
While for many the neighbourhood watch carries connotations of vigilante justice, the underlying message of Jatz’s script is a reminder that you can’t see what you don’t look for including the big things like love, friendship, and forgiveness.
Neighbourhood Watch is running at New Theatre from September 8th – October 3rd
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