Kate Herbert is theatre reviewer, Herald Sun, Melbourne & formerly for Melbourne Times. Kate is a director & produced playwright (20 plays). Scripts published by Currency Press. She worked as an actor, comedian, improviser & teacher of Acting, Improvisation & Playwriting. Kate is currently Convenor of Professional Writing & Editing, Swinburne University. Read her reviews here or at: www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/arts. NB Explorer Browser doesn't always work on blog.
Friday, 21 March 2014
Neighbourhood Watch, March 20, 2014 ***
Melbourne Theatre Company presents Belvoir Street production
MTC Southbank Theatre,
Sumner, until April 26, 2014 Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: *** Review
also published in Herald Sun online on Friday, March 21, 2014 and later in print. KH
In her compelling portrayal of Ana, a stroppy,
Hungarian refugee, Robyn Nevin commands the stage and saves Lally Katz’s Neighbourhood Watch from
slipping into banality.
The play, directed by Simon Stone, is a tale
of an unlikely relationship between two women from different generations and
vastly dissimilar life experiences.
Catherine (Megan Holloway), an aimless, young,
unemployed actor, is befriended over the rubbish bins by her eccentric, old
neighbour, Ana, and then becomes dependent on Ana’s bizarre wisdom and
enamoured of her life stories.
Although there is dramatic potential in the
women’s relationship, the play lacks cohesion because its two narrative threads
– Ana’s past and Catherine’s 21st century dilemmas – are not
The primary thread of the play, and its most
successful scenes and dialogue, are built around Ana’s stories of love, war,
refugee camps, and her life in Hungary, all of which Nevin tells in hilariously
broken English interrupted by insults and unsolicited advice.
Ana is maddening, perverse, rude, generous,
paranoid and old as dirt, and Nevin fully inhabits her, creating a complex,
credible character that makes one want to slap her – or hug her.
Anna seems tiny as she careens across the
stage in a half-stagger, appearing simultaneously frail and fierce, a victim of
her torrid past and her current illness.
However, Ana’s life lessons for Catherine feel
bolted on, providing only an artificial, unsatisfying link between past and
In the minor narrative thread, Catherine’s
friendship with her video-game obsessed housemate, Ken (Charlie Garber), is
under-developed, as is the relationship with her absent lover, Martin (Akos
Armont), who mysteriously abandoned her two years earlier.
Catherine’s story is woefully thin, her
character is underdeveloped, her emotional predicament not sufficiently
explored, and her dialogue often pedestrian.
Katz allows Catherine’s imagination to
transport her into Ana’s past life as she becomes a participant in Ana’s vivid
stories, but this device is clumsily handled.
These issues make it difficult for Holloway to
create a rounded character so her performance lacks dynamic and emotional range
and nuance, leaving Catherine colourless, whimpering and talking in an
The rest of the cast cleverly depicts a parade
of entertaining characters, a highlight being Kris McQuade’s resilient and
cheerful Milinka who plods to Ana’s door regularly, only to be summarily
dismissed as an interloper.
Natasha Herbert showcases her acting range in
an array of diverse characters including the dejected, ailing Belinda and a
feisty Neighbourhood Watch campaigner.
Anthony Harkin’s music and singing are a
welcome addition and Charlie Garber as Ken is a cheerful cameo.
Director Stone leaves the stage empty but
places the action on a series of concentric revolves that sometimes become more
interesting than the dialogue.
At 135 minutes, this play is far too long,
fragmented, and succeeds almost entirely because of Nevin’s consummate, nuanced
performance as the dynamic, frustrating Ana.