Review / ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ tackles real issues

theatre / “Neighbourhood Watch”, directed by Kate Blackhurst and written by Lally Katz. At Canberra Repertory until August 19. Reviewed by JOHN LOMBARD.

“Neighbourhood Watch deals with real and disarmingly authentic issues, but this production never escapes its own suburban ennui,” writes John Lombard.

LALLY Katz’s play Neighbourhood Watch benefits from a down-to-earth setting: the suburbs of Canberra, circa 2007.

In this community people mostly shun each over, study The West Wing, and puzzle over who keeps slipping nappies into their garbage bin at night.

In this everyday milieu, isolated Hungarian immigrant Ana (Liz de Toth) tries to break out of her loneliness by striking up friendship with aspiring actor Catherine (Alex McPherson).

The play ventures into interesting territory by tackling suburban loneliness head-on, forcing the audience to question whether they neglect the people who live alongside them.

But the play is performed with low energy, and inward-looking performances from both Toth and McPherson would be more suited to television than Theatre 3.

Much of the action is tucked away at specific points of the stage – an attempt to convey the many scenes and locations in the play without bursting the budget – and while this makes the continuity of the story easy to follow, the wide spaces suck more energy out of the play.

The use of the revolving stage enables some more energetic sequences, but the revolve is so loud that it’s a distracting accompaniment to any dialogue – Tim Sekuless’ beautiful singing voice deserved better.

Frequent classic rock interludes covered scene changes, but with the script firmly planted in 2007 Canberra it was hard to understand why the music was not drawn from that era as well.

Lally Katz’s script definitely has charm, although some contrived plotting mean that shock moments burst out of nowhere, and the use of some magical realism happens so late that it feels somehow out-of-place.

The best of the play was in the tremendous irony in how Ana relates to another ageing immigrant (played by a wickedly funny Judi Crane), and their dynamic gave a key insight into Ana’s character.

Neighbourhood Watch deals with real and disarmingly authentic issues, but this production never escapes its own suburban ennui.

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