Rough Trade | Joy Minter & Sydney Fringe Festival

Image by Clare Hawley

Nobody likes Mark Zuckerberg and many people translate their dislike into deleting the ubiquitous Facebook app. But for many others, the social media platform remains an essential tool for connection and, for some others, survival. They gather in groups like Rough Trade, developing community that traverses digital and real life divides.

For one woman, Rough Trade has become a lifeline where the repeated notification dings bring her into contact with the weird and wonderful world of trades; some things she wants or needs, some things are glimpses into other people’s fascinating lives from half-used ingredients to niche services to a range of sex toys in various states of (dis)use. Using the framework of the trade offers currently available on Rough Trade and popular trades of lore, Katie Pollock’s script constructs a woman whose life hasn’t gone to plan, where trauma and violence have pushed her to the margins and deep into the anti-capitalist communist community of trades.

Director Anthony Skuse kept the solo-performance light with a focus on the humour of quirky people, satisfying trades, and the unexpected prevalence of sex amongst the Rough Trade crowd. But the transition from the funny anecdotes to the more serious experiences of the character was smooth and organic. A simple set design of a demarcated square with some moving boxes and a little red chair kept the focus on Pollock’s character, positioned as a kind of interpreter between the audience and the world of the trading group. The lighting design by James Wallis used visible single lighting stands placed around the square to signal a kind of pared-back approach to the production, as though adding to the authenticity and vulnerability of the performance by laying the production design bare.

This easy, conversational approach in the direction and the production design was effective for providing a sense of flow and wandering momentum, but Pollock’s performance was highly polished and poised, more in-keeping with the style of a TedTalk presentation. That being said, the stories Pollock used in the script to construct her character from interviews with real Rough Trade users were relatable for many in the audience who reacted to the production with audible recognition. Particularly, the characterisation of a middle-aged woman as a complicated person with a valuable range of experience as well as a lively inner life complete with personality, sexuality, and community was refreshing. Pollock’s representation of an older woman deliberately pushed back against how the invisibility of this demographic socially, politically, and culturally directly impacts on women’s loneliness, poor mental health, and also the crisis of their rising rates of homelessness.

Like the other recent solo-woman production Through the Cracks, Rough Trade gives voice to the huge number of middle-aged women who face homelessness in unstable job and housing markets. While the character gets a kick out of the odder trade offers in the group, she is also using the platform to keep her afloat when the welfare cheque doesn’t stretch far enough. This blurring between the character’s real life and her relationship with the group was represented in the sound design by Cluny Edwards that used a bell ding to signal shifts in attention and memory in the monologue just as the Facebook notifications pulled the character’s attention instantly. What was particularly poignant about the structure of this production was the reframing of a social media platform, a technology widely believed to be increasing feelings of isolation and despair, as a technology for connection and community, like it was always intended for. But Pollock was explicit that Rough Trade is not a production in praise of Zuckerberg or his creepy, omnipresent metaverse; rather, an instant of how one woman uses the resources around her to rebuild her life and sense of self.

Rough Trade ran at the Seymour Centre from September 6th – 10th as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival and Made in Sydney

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