Dancing naked in the Backyard – Brave New Word and the politics of living. (Theatre Review)

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Dancing Naked In The Backyard

April 15 – 26

Tap Gallery (purchase tickets here)

It is always a strange thing to see Australian white people fighting over Aboriginal land as if they owned it, as if they had rights to it, as if trading their own invented currency that they decided has value, can ever be a replacement for soil and its gifts. It is no great secret that the contemporary economic system is built on the “free procurement” of things like wind, sunshine, stealing land from original owners, and the free labour of women and children (See Marilyn Warings great book Counting For Nothing for one of the best analysis of this) but no matter how you feel about these problems and the birth of economics, the reality of what to do within the system we built still itches at our edges and demands we deal with the day-to-day in the mess we made with the blunt rather useless tools of the past.

It is to the strange world of white people fighting over local land that C.J. Naylor and Brave New Word theatre company have brought their current production, Dancing Naked in the Backyard. The small world of Hinton Street is W H I T E and though open to the ideas of immigration (or at least not openly opposed) and population growth, is trying to come to terms with this idea when it shows up in their backyard. The immediate, obvious question this play raises is why do we all need a backyard, and certainly one that is fenced off from the rest of the world. At the surface, the world of Hinton street seems to be one with its head buried firmly in the sand, refusing to acknowledge that growth and change are not only inevitable, but essential. However, when developer Mr Reyland (a delightfully sleazy Samuel Smith who makes great use of a fabulous head of hair in the play) decides he wants to build the local area up, his initial idea is to create a small community, complete with gardens, waterfalls, football fields, small store fronts for local businesses, first level offices and a beautiful village atmosphere. To the communities credit, they see this as a wonderful idea, coming on board, willing to allow their trees, gardens and peaceful little street to be bulldozed to make way for something better.

But like so many problems of urban consolidation (and this is writer CJ Naylors point) the ideas that are first formed and first sold do not always turn out the way they were planned, and where small village communities might be built, it is slums and soulless ghettos that end up in their place. Coupled with this fight for vision, is a strange world of stark bureaucracy the uninitiated enters with caution, brought to brilliant life in the play by Sascha Hall who plays a perfectly lifeless council clerk. Once our small group of residents band together to form a united front, they find their honesty and clear communication will get them nothing and the system itself will force their behaviours into a moral netherworld, where it is not what is on the plans that makes the difference, but what is going on under the table. It is this dilemma of fighting against a corporate machine and having to become one with it in order to defeat it that is the central problem for our protagonists to solve in Dancing Naked in the Backyard.

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Brave New Word have put on an enthusiastic production of C.J. Naylors play, choosing to work with realism and a micro-world within the small intimate theatre of the Tap gallery downstairs. They’ve assembled a strong team of actors, with a standout performance from the aforementioned Sascha Hall giving a delightfully deadpan representation of the strange world the residents of Hinton street find themselves in, followed closely by Samuel Smiths funny and sleazy Reyland as the developer for whom vision is simply a way to get buildings up as quickly as possible and broken promises amount to nothing more than bad timing. The four residents, determined to preserve a way of life that is slipping through their fingers are Matt Hopkins as the group’s leader Derwent, Zazu Towle as his resourceful wife Cathy, Alan Long as the unlucky Harold and Estelle Healey as the good-hearted Nancy. Together they bring the world of Hinton street to a sleepy cheery life that is threatened by the inevitable changes that progress brings.

Brave New Word are surprisingly unjudgemental in this small tale of over the fence bickering, preferring to leave all conclusions drawn to the audience. This then makes for plenty of discussion afterwards, even if it does leave us with the unanswered question of what do we do with all these people?

Dancing-Naked-In-The-Backyard_Daily-Sydney

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