Tidy Town of the Year – 3 Quacks ask what really makes a town ugly? (Theatre review)

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Tidy Town Of The Year

3 Quacks in association with the Sydney Independent Theatre Company

Old Fitzroy Theatre

4-22 March – Tickets here.

The Tidy Town of the Year competition is a Victorian initiative designed to give rural communities an opportunity to improve the aesthetics of their town in line with the overall Keep Australia beautiful campaign. It’s intention is:

The Keep Australia Beautiful Victoria (KABV) Tidy Towns – Sustainable Communities Awards recognise positive actions taken by communities in rural and regional areas to protect and enhance their local environments. They encompass initiatives as diverse as litter prevention, recycling, protection of the environment, preserving heritage, community action and leadership and environmental sustainability programs. (Taken from the Tidy Town website)

However, as soon as a community are fervently working toward the beautification and preservation of their town, it is inherent in the artistic mind to ask: What are they trying to hide? Surely everything starts out ‘beautiful’, so the real questions of the Tidy Town program, becomes what is ugly (untidy) and what therefore needs to be removed in order to win the Tidy Town of the year contest? Not content to settle for the answer to this, the artistic mind then wants to know, what made the ugliness in the first place, and can it be removed with the displacing of its evidence?

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It is this delicious premise that lays at the heart of the charming new show at The Old Fitzroy Theatre, by the theatre company with the very ‘keeping it real’ title of 3 Quacks in association with the Sydney Independent Theatre Company. Tidy Town of the Year is built on the premise above. A coupe of cleaners working in the local hotel, are doing their bit hoping their town will win Tidy Town of the Year. Pamela and Rover are friends since childhood, each used to accommodating the others quirks and therefore good working pals now in their early adult lives. They bustle about the hotel room that is being prepared for the visiting political dignitary who will stop by for a day to announce the winner of Tidy Town of the year. Pamela is particularly invested in the towns win, hoping they beat out the nearest town which is their greatest rival, in more than the current competition. Tidy Town of the Year begins with the two working together, teasing each other, reminiscing about their youth and gossiping about other locals which at first appears to be the norm, but soon reveals itself to have a sinister component. When the pair find a body in the bathroom, so hacked up they can’t tell if its male or female, we start to see that there is more to the casual bitching the couple have been engaging in , and it’s going to take a lot more than aesthetic cleanliness to wipe away the sins of this town.

Tidy Town of the Year retains it joy and buoyancy despite the dark twists and turns of the narrative, becoming a dark comedy that borders on slapstick and the absurd. What is interesting about the production is the three actors are also the three writers, so the performances are very close to the dialogue, which inevitably is fast paced, sparky and cerebral, possibly at the sacrifice of a deeper character development, but working in favour of a more complex narrative arc. There are many loose threads in this Tidy Town, but we manage to grasp all of them and work them together at the end. It’s always interesting to see actors performing their own writing because of the affect the intimacy with the words might have on their performance and Tidy Town of the Year offers some exciting aspects of this phenomenon. Sarah Hodgetts (the aptly named Hope), Victoria Greiner (Pamela) and Andy Leonard (Rover) are all fine performers – possibly better actors than writers, but its tricky to tell since they are also collaborating which adds another layer of complexity to the play – and yet, despite all the movement, Tidy Town (or TTOTY as they call it in the notes) comes across as an erudite exercise. A lot of attention has been placed on annunciation (which is excellent because there are a lot of words and we never miss one) and possibly because characterisation is a little lacking, the three performers almost become the words they speak, as if they are performing a story rather than necessarily embodying the time and place of the piece of theatre. This nuance doesn’t detract from the flow of the play because of the suspense and wit of the words, but it adds a dimension for theatre lovers who are as interested in production as they are in the immediate audience experience.

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As if all these ambitions weren’t enough, TTOTY has included a collaborative directorial team to the swirling mass of verbosity and electrified vigor the play embodies. Deborah Jones and Sean O’Riordan work together (under an agreement not to be precious, according to the notes) for the first time in collaboration and the production is therefore dense with ideas and movement that coalesce remarkably, given all the heads now included in bringing TTOTY to vibrant life. There is a sense of multiple visions working together, somehow TTOTY takes on an expanse that the plot doesn’t imply, but by keeping Marcello Fabrizi’s sound and Dimitra kiriakopolous’ lighting design strong but unobtrusive (one of the few elements of the play that isn’t large) the audience finds no real impediment to the words, which are so central to TTOTY. Matt De Haas has designed a charming set filled with the hodge-podge collections small town hotels often are (including a broken furniture knob and blood splattered shower curtain) which gives the play its much-needed groundedness.

Best of all, is the exciting premise that will leave you asking the question in the wake of Pamela’s mantra, what makes a town tidy after all?

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