Pre-show music and mingling sets the tone of The Neighbourhood, as the show’s performers (Cieavash Arean, Nima Doostkhah, Aurora Liddle-Christie, Dr Matt Hsu, Naavi Karan, Anisa Nandula and Amer Thabet) converse with the audience to prompt conversation around consideration of our neighbourhoods. Clearly, the concept of home is a complicated and abstract one and it takes until the production’s end to experience its full realisation. The revelatory work tracks seven individual, real-life journeys from the experience of fleeing homelands to seeking refuge and creating, fostering and discovering a new community (or neighbourhood) in Australia. The result, which has been written and co-created by the storytellers themselves, is a moving evening of honest and authentic theatre.
A trumpet from the stalls signals a clap-along start to the show proper and reflects the clear joy of the performers gathered, especially evident in Karan’s disposition. But it is a joy juxtaposed to its later confronting content of deeply personal stories linked to trauma (as advised in the venue’s notices outlining what audience members feeling anxiety or discomfort should do to keep themselves safe from harm) … stories such as Thabet’s Syrian experience and even filtered memories of encounters in North Queensland.
Music plays an essential part in the production as the stories detail how these performers came to be here and how some reconciled their lost connection to their birthplaces. Adam Gardnir’s set design is simple with the venue’s in-the-round staging operating as an aesthetic organiser. The circular theme is broken though as we learn that not all receive a warm welcome. Ben Hughes’ lighting design is sublime and suits the intimate nature of the setting and storytelling.
Although The Neighbourhood is very much an ensemble piece, there are still a few standouts. Nandaula has an infectious, energetic physicality that makes her monologue all the more powerful. Hsu is not only a talented musician but a considerate storyteller who involves all of the audience through his gestures and movements. Liddle-Christie serves as a calming hand.
The Neighbourhood is a work that has something important to say in its exploration of complex stories and shared experiences of first nations individuals, first generation migrants and refugees. It holds a mirror to our national idiosyncrasies and privileges, and shares the truth of subtle racism. Ultimately, it is an authentic, powerful piece of human – rather than political theatre. It reveals how it takes not just a village but a neighbourhood for individuals to survive and thrive.
La Boite Theatre Company’s The Neighbourhood is on until 29th February, 2020.
For more of Meredith Walker’s theatre reviews, check out Blue Curtains Brisbane.