Friday, 21 March 2014

Neighbourhood Watch, March 20, 2014 ***

By Lally Katz
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
 Robyn Nevin (Ana), Megan Holloway (Catherine) Photo © Jeff Busby
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 effectively dovetailed.

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 present.

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 adolescent monotone.

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.

By Kate Herbert

 Natasha Herbert, Robyn Nevin (Ana)  Photos © Jeff Busby

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