Last Thursday night was my first adventure into the world of Urban Theatre Projects, a company I had long heard about but never experienced their work… why? Perhaps I was frightened off site-specific work during my performance studies degree… perhaps because I am a die-hard L-plater/public transport advocate who feared the late train ride and obscure locations in the Western suburbs of Sydney? I don’t know.

On this occasion, I got to be the date of Mr Waites, who had been working with UTP for some time observing the rehearsal process of this unique company, and helping to write program notes for the project. I also have met the very dynamic and impressive Michelle Kotevski who is the Executive Producer of UTP- so how could I refuse?

On the night, audience congregate like on a ghost tour out the back of the Riverside Theatre- and we cross the road like children- in clusters of stragglers. We walk up the winding path which is dotted with small garden lamps- its like being on a illuminated treasure map. When we reach the top of the stairs we are offered insect repellant – a couple of the audience members seem to be disgruntled that their aftershave will be overwhelmed. It’s opening night.
We walk up through the sandstone building- boarded up and unused. When we get to the chain-link fence surrounding the performance space we are offered a program and a poncho (the sky is milk white with the threat of rain). We herd like cattle up a ramp to the rostra of seating which looks down into a half house.

Someone is sanding a bench outside, someone else is cooking dinner- there is the sound of the crickets- a frangipanni tree drops its bi-coloured stars onto the grass. A 44 gallon drum- rusted- holds a fire within…the door of the shed is open.

It’s a highly evocative show- a docu-drama/peep show into the lives of the household- who seem to be connected- but not through bonds of family nor obligation. Mel (Kelton Pell), is sanding a bench, Connie (Skye Quill) is making dinner, Lou (Helen Dallas) is howling over her recent break up, Chris (Richard Green) has come to visit. The four are together yet separate- working on different parts of their lives. When Joy (Vicki Van Hout) arrives- past tensions flair and things left unsaid for ten years resurface.

Alicia Talbot’s direction is very translucent- the actors move throughout the house and the narrative with great freedom. This work has been devised by the performers in consultation with the community who have experiences of being institutionalised from a young age- in the very buildings that we walked past on our way to the performance space.
This is not an explosive- attention grabbing assault -full of expositional horror and graphic accounts of abuse- it is more refined than this. A slow leak of tension- a ponderous meander into the background hum that haunts these people- the feeling of never quite belonging- never feeling connected- and failing to make long term commitment to anything, anyone or anywhere.

It is more installation than exposition- more fickle than it is reliable- a slippery show indeed… and one worth a few days of reflection.
There were some lovely moments of authenticity- Richard Green’s guitar playing, the attempt of seduction by Lou- and some realistic moments of simmering competition between Connie and Joy… and a rock solid presence of Mel- who is man enough to cry.

I have heard so much about the process- but really I am only interested in what the process gives to the production- and so I won’t talk about the consultation- or the devising process- because I don’t know about this- I can only give my perspective of the production.

Although, I know it was a necessary aspect of production- but some of the vocal warmth and subtlety of the performance was lost in the radio microphones worn by the actors. And at times (as there is such and expansive playing area) it was difficult to connect the voice with the actor and the emotion… for a show so intimate and delicate – this seemed the greatest inconsistency- where sound becomes MUCH larger than the style or the authenticity of the show. It is that area in which the work teeters- somewhere between life and the theatrical. And if this is judged in a theatrical context this play could be analysed for what it lacked as a script, whereas it should be appreciated for the authenticity of what it has… a casual tension, sparseness and spontaneousness which only reality has.

However, this is an astoundingly important show- a show which lingers and leaves an impression- a sticky residue – like that of our history… I deserves our time and attention- this is our history- we must embrace it in its broken, fragmented state and never EVER let this happen again.