By Irena Bee
The Neighbourhood is a show that we all should see but most of us won’t.
No doubt we all feel we’ve heard enough stories of cultural clash, war, racism and dispossession without wasting another perfectly good evening (on feeling even worse about the world and our privilege in it).
However, the Neighbourhood takes that premise and spins it on its head.
The show builds a compelling performance piece from the raw and powerful voices of individuals woven into a beautiful performance of song, music, storytelling, spoken word and poetry.
What makes The Neighbourhood such a great piece of theatre are the charismatic and entertaining leads, many of whom are award-winning professional performers and artists.
The standout storytellers were Amer Thabet, a Syrian refugee, and Anisa Nandaula, an immigrant from Uganda who arrived in Australia with her mother at age 8.
Anisa’s stories, often told in electrifying poetry slam style, reflected my own experience as a non-white immigrant kid – loving Australia, knowing your life here is ‘better here’ but desperately feeling othered by the harsh realities of school and media.
In contrast, Amer’s stories of trying to understand Australian culture are funny and true, but his stories of war in Syria, told in first person and reenacted by the cast, provide the kind of compassionate accessibility that only such intimate, personal retelling brings.
Some stories and performers are less effective of course, partly due to the nature of their content, being more abstract and stylised, rather than direct, energetic or funny. What works best are the concrete narratives, the ones that describe a moment of emotional and physical specificity.
Aurora Liddle-Christie’s stories are just that. She is not only an engaging actor but she also brings a truly unique perspective as a First Nations woman with a Jamaican father. Her stories of growing up in her loud, musical, loving and sometimes angry home leave you wanting more.
The two musicians, Cieavash Arean (Persian Australian) and Dr Matt Hsu (Taiwanese Australian) provided sweet live music as well as their own stories. Matt’s funny, whimsical journey is punctuated by instruments including a piano accordion, double bass and finger drum. Cieavash in particular, provided much-needed perspective as the oldest (wisest?) cast member.
The Neighbourhood stories spark joy, life and charisma and fill the stage with the power and colour of their narrative. Supported by great sound and lighting effects and a simple in-the-round minimalist set, you feel like you’re right there with them, escaping war, maintaining dignity in prison, surviving a father’s anger or learning to dance. Every word is fresh and every word carries emotional gravitas way beyond the night.
The Neighbourhood is on at the Roundhouse theatre in La Boite in Kelvin Grove until February 29th. Book https://laboite.com.au/shows/The-Neighbourhood