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Blue Italian / Nil by Sea

Photos by Zorica Purlija

Peter Fray presents, BLUE ITALIAN and NIL BY SEA, by Katie Pollock, at the Leichhardt Town Hall, Sydney. April 29 – May 17, 2015.

BLUE ITALIAN and NIL BY SEA are two new short plays by Katie Pollock. The evening is short, less than an hour, total. One enters the space by a side door from a bleak, small, fluorescent-lit foyer of the Leichhardt Town Hall and walk through some local council (LMC) yellow and black road block tools on the floor flat, with the blinking battery lights indicating caution. The light is dim and the seating is of single chairs, on the floor flat too – this making, I observed, difficulty of viewing for some audience when the action of the players has them sitting at the near feet of the front row. It is an improvised space in a period (historic) town hall that has an old fashioned raised stage empty and glooming at the other far end of the room – intercepted, to access, by the improvised technical desk of the lighting and sound artists. The Director, Rachel Chant, has with the Production Designer, Benjamin Brockman taken an ‘experimental’ decision to display the ‘action’ of the production on the flat. It creates more communication problems than successes.

Ms Pollock’s two short plays are ‘poems’ of description spoken to us by four actors – there is little interaction of the dramatic kind between characters. BLUE ITALIAN (originally a radio play [ABC] – in fact, both plays feel as if they are for radio rather than the stage) follows a young ‘adventurer’ into a wide-eyed tourist journey into a country with bewildering obstacles of different culture and politics, paralleled with the ‘adventures’ of a new immigrant adjusting to another world she has come to live in, where the family Blue Italian dinner-set is gradually shattered. In NIL BY SEA, we are told of the discovery of a body that has fallen from the sky, from the wheel cavity of a plane coming in to land – the only remnant of the body now just a bloody dint in the ground.

These plays reveal a collection of beautiful images and juxtapositions of ideas, and deal gently, cleverly, with contemporary issues of cultural misunderstanding and the consequential needful adjustments in our society/world, or tangentially, with the Australian Governments’ policies around refugees who attempt to reach these shores by desperate means causing some desperate consequences. The content of Ms Pollock’s work is always arresting and politically alert (A QUIET NIGHT IN RANGOON).

Unfortunately, the Director Ms Chant has worked with a physical coach, David Jackson, to develop a movement pattern/’dance’ with the actors to incessantly obfuscate the text. What, I imagine, was hoped to be a clarifying physical element to the production has turned into an almighty distraction from the text: Imagine an actor delivering face front to the audience ‘poetic’ text whilst stylistically removing a long sleeved black sweater, pulling it over the face and dragging it through the arms, revealing the naked upper torso in tantalising glimpses of beauty, only to have the sweater pulled back into order to thwart a complete gawk at the naked flesh, and then have the whole of the physicality repeated, whilst the actor continues delivering Ms Pollock’s writing. How much of the text do you think one might hear, while this ‘ballet’ continues? How much might one grasp? How does the double focus of language and disconnected physical explication help? Which does the audience focus on with this double theatrical offer, made by Ms Chant and Mr Jackson?  What if the actor just stood still and delivered to us a direct communication, the language of the play? How much more would we apprehend, I wonder? The annoying intrusion, attention grabbing, choice by Ms Chant, is repeated in different ways throughout the whole of the work, at the expense of the clarity of Ms Pollocks’ plays, and seemed cumulatively, untrusting of those plays and felt pretentious in its action. Arty and boring.

The actors, Jennie Dibley, Nat Jobe, Alex Malone and Sarah Meacham, in dim lighting with occasional clumsy spot lighting, cope moderately well but not in any way that truly holds one’s attention or attachment. The Sound Design by Tom Hogan is a restfully successful element.

The location of Leichhardt Town Hall being on a flight path, the passing planes, overhead to the venue, coming into land at Kingsford Smith airport, heard and then glimpsed, poetically, through one of the Hall’s windows at the back of the setting, became a focus of my attention in my seat, as Ms Pollock’s plays became shrouded by the movement distractions of the director. It became a long hour in the theatre.

BLUE ITALIAN & NILS BY SEA are part of a cultural program called Site and Sound, a project made possible by funding from Leichhardt Council. Yes, the same council featured in the 1996 documentary, RATS IN THE RANKS. Time happens, I suppose.