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Review - The Neighbourhood: theatre at its finest


Photo by Stephen Henry

The Neighbourhood

Created by Todd MacDonald, Aleea Monsour and Ari Palani

La Boite

Roundhouse Theatre

Kelvin Grove

Brisbane

Season runs until February 29. Duration: 70 minutes with no interval. Bookings: 07 3007 8600 or www.laboite.com

It would be dishonest of me to say I went into La Boite’s latest show The Neighbourhood with an open mind. I had seen the advertising describing it as “Like our smash hit show The Village” a show I will admit I didn’t like.

In recent years La Boite’s programing has been a mixed bag at best. But in a weird way however it is those low expectations that allowed The Neighbourhood to be such a pleasant surprise.

The Neighbourhood, much like The Village is a co-production between La Boite and Multicultural Australia, but unlike The Village which at times felt more like a community arts project, The Neighbourhood is 100% pure unadulterated theatre at its finest.

While the difference between the two art forms is sometimes hard to define, in this case the difference is obvious, the design elements. While the simple but effective lighting design by Ben Hughes, and smartly powerful sound design by Brady Watkins were certainly remarkable, the true star of the design elements was Adam Gardnir’s set design.

While on the outside the set might not have seemed like anything special, eight rounded white blocks that came together to make a circle, the use of them throughout the show made the audience realise just how versatile the set was. It was the bombed out streets of Syria, a Turkish prison, the Brisbane suburb of Runcorn. It was all those places and none of them and through this elevated what could have otherwise been a social experiment into fine theatre.

It’s at this point of a review I would usually talk about the cast members and their performances but in this case we have no “performances” per se to critique. Instead we have seven storytellers telling their own stories in their own words, sometimes in their own language, which means I can only really talk about the effectiveness of the way they told them.

Of course effective storytelling goes beyond just “performances” but also to direction, writing and dramaturgy which does make more complicated.

If I was to pick a stand out “performance” in the show however, it would have to be Anisa Nandaula who caught my attention from the very beginning. But at the end of the day however this show is an ensemble piece and one its greatest strength is the way the ensemble, made up of Amer Thabet, Naavi Karan, Matt Hsu, Aurora Liddle-Christie, Cieavash Arean, Nima Doostkhah and the aforementioned Anisa Nandaula, works together to make a Greek chorus like feel.

As for the writing, direction and dramaturgy, while it far exceeded my expectations but it was far from perfect. In particular moments where cast members would ask scripted questions, with scripted answers felt forced and unnatural rather than a heightened realism that I suspect co-creators Todd MacDonald, Aleea Monsour and Ari Palani with assistance from Ngoc Phan were going for. That being said the required changes are surface level and can easily improve if this show is to, as I suspect it will, continue and have a future life.

As a critic you are told to leave expectations at the door and only judge the art you saw, not the art you wanted to see. In my case I may very well of missed a show of great political importance in The Neighbourhood beacuse of my own prejudices and biases. Is the show perfect? No but it’s certainly on the right path.

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