Thursday, 13 August 2015

A Social Service, Aug 13, 2015 ****

Original Concept by Nicola Gunn
Created & Performed by Nicola Gunn & David Woods

Malthouse Theatre, 13 to 29 Aug, 2015
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Full review also published in Herald Sun online on Fri 14Aug 2015 and later in print KH

There are so many things to recommend this intimate, deceptively simple production created and performed by two of my favourite theatre artists, Nicola Gunn and David Woods.

It’s not often that a theatre piece is funny, moving, thought provoking and a political call to action, but A Social Service is all of those things.

Gunn and Woods turn their inimitable and searing satirical gaze on the idiotic arenas of public art, government bureaucracy and real estate development in this diverting, one-hour show.

In a kind of self-parody, Gunn plays Nicola, a self-congratulatory, self-indulgent artist (NB repetition of ‘self’) employed by ‘Creative Neighbourhoods’ project leader, John (Woods), to create a site-specific, public art ‘outcome’ in a fictional Housing Commission block called the Frederick Olaf Estate.

In a volley of impenetrable, artsy jargon, Nicola begins her community consultation with zero sensitivity to the needs, lives or problems of current residents (Shaan Juma), believing that her proposed art project will not only elevate their minds but overcome their poverty.

Arrogant, do I hear you say? It gets better – or worse depending on your perspective.

Employing his super talent for bold, absurd characters, Woods reveals the outwardly bland John to be a self-serving, manipulative and ultimately treacherous villain using corporate-speak to mask his intention to privatise public housing, service corporate greed and build over green spaces.

On opening night, Juma played a young resident of the estate who is the mild voice of reason expressing residents’ views, but other members of the real residential community that contributed to Gunn’s research will play this role during the season.

Working from a script and prompted intermittently by Gunn, Juma sits quietly on a central bench, observing the escalation of volatile debate between Nicola, John and Rory (Woods), the uproariously combative, Northern Irish president of the Residents’ Committee.

Oily John wants to convert flats into artists’ studios, gentrify the estate and use Nicola’s art work to launch his Future Plan, while Nicola wants to use (Yes, use) residents in her ‘socially engaged practice’ that will improve their ‘culturally poor’ lives.

Why? queries Juma. Why indeed. Juma is already running a gentle, inclusive and successful art activity called the Longevity Project that involves a lot of mosaic tiles.

Nothing gets done – except some quietly meditative tiling – and we presume that nobody benefits except John’s developers.

This piece surreptitiously challenges the status quo, compels vigorous, post-show discussion and entertains in that eccentric and idiosyncratic way that only Gunn and Woods can do.

Kate Herbert

Sound Design / Nick Roux
Lighting Design / Gwen Holmberg-Gilchrist
Production Design / SANS HOTEL (Nicola Gunn & Gwen Holmberg-Gilchrist), Eugyeene Teh
Bust Construction /
Katrina Gaskell
Guest Performances / Abira De Oliveria, Angelo Duot, Shaan Juma, Isabel Mure, Tayla Nichols and Elisabeth Wot

From Media Release (for now.)

A Social Service

// we’d be better off without.

A Social Service / should help people, shouldn’t it? 
Featuring Nicola Gunn and David Woods, this smart performance sticks its nose into the gap between rich and poor, and smells something funny. Prepare yourself for an in-your-face look at systems that claim to help the needy, but only help themselves.
In a send-up of greed, status and the machinations of power, Gunn and Woods take a satirical look at the state of the public housing system, and the developers and bureaucrats who control its future. Featuring guest performances by residents of Melbourne's public housing estates, A Social Service questions who these safety nets are really there to benefit by digging at a reality more concerned with replicating itself than improving the situation. When the people at the top have no understanding of ordinary worries, needs or wants, maybe their help is the kind / we’d be better off without. (Malthouse MR)

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