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Sydney Review - Neighbourhood Watch: a fine contribution to Australian theatre

By Paul Kiely

Neighbourhood Watch

By Lally Katz

Directed by Louise Fischer

A New Theatre Production

New Theatre

542 King Street

Newtown

Season: 8 September – 3 October 2020. Bookings: https://newtheatre.org.au

Duration: 150 minutes including 15-minute interval

As the Kevin07 bandwagon takes hold in Canberra, more important matters are taking place in Mary Street, somewhere in Sydney’s inner west. The cottages may be close together, but the lives and histories of their occupants are seemingly worlds apart.

Neighbourhood Watch by Lally Katz tells an Australian story set in 2007/08 about how we relate, and not relate, to the strangers that are our local neighbours. Why we sometimes are apprehensive to embrace new friendships, avoid the lonely and stay content with our own insecurities are explored in this entertaining and cleverly constructed play.

The central character is Ana, superbly acted by Colleen Cook. Ana is an elderly, widowed Hungarian migrant, polite and cultured; well-versed in Australian ways but she carries an intuition with a very high antenna. This enables her to sense good and bad in the people she comes across, especially men- and especially their sexual intentions. Her first husband had “too much Catholic to use the sausage”.

Via creative flashback scenes to her beloved ‘Budapesht’, Ana’s early life of hardship is revealed and explains her present-day distrust of some well-meaning friends. Her acquaintance Jovanka (Susan Jordan) often drops by, keen to have a coffee with Ana, who continually shuns her good intentions.

Ana’s neighbours have their own set of issues. On one side are housemates Catherine/Cathy (Kelly Robinson) and Ken (Stephen Lloyd-Coombs). They are twenty-somethings, Catherine an aspiring actress and Ken, a struggling filmmaker and devotee of The West Wing and World of Warcraft. On the other side is Katrina (Tricia Youlden), security paranoid as she grapples with memory loss from her cancer treatment.

The story evolves slowly to start with; however, the pace accelerates as Ana takes steps to open communication with her neighbours. A large cast playing multiple roles add further dimension to the past lives of the main characters. Thanks to Cathy Bates, Sophia Bryant, Eloise Martin-Jones, Caitlin Williams, Joshua Horwitz, John van Putten and Harry Taylor.

Director Louise Fischer uses the wide stage of the New Theatre to keep the audience captivated. The sets are colourful whilst lighting and sound grab the senses. A versatile centre-stage paling fence symbolises the barriers which society put up but are ultimately overcome. As Cathy states to Ana “If you look for the good, it’s there too.”

Lally Katz has written a play with sharp dialogue, real characters and scenes which generate familiarity. The themes are topical and relatable. Knowing people’s past explains their current behaviour, and Katz does this delicately whilst exploring issues of abortion, suicide, bullying, love, lust and hope.

Neighbourhood Watch is a fine contribution to Australian theatre and I commend it. This interpretation from the covid-friendly New Theatre is a worthy production.

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