Belle of the Cross – Poetry in the dust and dirt of the Kings Cross homeless. (Theatre review)

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Belle of the Cross

The Old Fitzroy Theatre

18 – 29 November. You can grab tickets here.

“The Lorikeets look down on us”, says Belle. “But down here are the seagulls, the pigeons and the ibis…” the streets that Belle calls her home are not for the beautiful birds who live in the high city spaces but rather for the all too common rabble, the unremarkable birds that we see so much as part of the pavement stone, we image they are the same colour. Belle of the Cross is the delightful story of Bell, an amalgam of characters writer Angelika Fremd got to know in her work with the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross, that offered her, in return for her volunteer services, a close relationship to many of the people struggling at the coal face of life. As only the folk who work with these people can properly know, there these relationships are filled with surprises that end up telling you more about yourself than they do about the people we would otherwise take pity on as if they were abstract occurences in our lives. I know of someone who befriended a man who lived on a park bench once, she got into the habit each morning of saying hello. At Christmas time, she asked him what he was going to do on Christmas day and he replied, to her astonishment, “Oh I always spend it with my family.” Their story is never a straightforward one and assumptions always end up being overturned.

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But beyond that, beyond the sympathies and the white Christian guilt, is the poetry of the streets, the dignity of those who look out for each other on a regular basis and the strength of the bonds formed in these little communities. These folk are not the great unwashed as we suppose, but warm heroic survivors of bitter tragedy, people who have to live by the rules of society and the rules of a concrete jungle. We kid ourselves if we think weakness is at the heart of homelessness, as some people are just not born with that many options. To see these people in the character Belle, to see them walking at dawn, her favourite part of the day, to know that there is a world, a life, a poetry moving around on the streets that can’t be properly seen unless we get on our hands and knees and allow life’s residue to stain us; as Belle would call it, “down with the blood, dirt, rubbish, condoms and bird shit.” There is the tragedy, the disaster we impose in our search for meaning, but there is also the confrontation with the clean, the wealthy, the young, the accomplished and the beautiful. The homeless people of Kings Cross walk around among us, as much a right to society as we feel we have earned for ourselves, and they have worked harder for their food than we will ever understand. They don’t just absorb the dirt from the footpath, they absorb it from our conscience. “They lock the doors of the public toilets at night,” says Belle, “and then complain about the smell of urine.”

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All this and more throbs in the fecund words of Angelika Fremd as interpreted through the performance of Gertraud Ingeborg. Slated as a double bill against The Les Robinson Story, Belle of the Cross is a light, delicate beauty against the robust angst of the previous monologue. Gertraud Ingeborg is a small, beautiful woman with a striking presence and it is impossible to look away as she tells her tale of life on the streets. David Ritchie directs her performance, keeping her constantly moving, clutching her belongings, steadily going about the very real daily business of survival. Ingeborg is accompanied by Colleen Cook who plays a silent character Fleur, another admixture of the women around Belle, an image of what she sees, and what she ignores. Together the two women portray the streets of the Cross as a place of lingering beauty, melding with the sadness that seeps in when one finally knows too much. It’s a lovely play, delightfully directed and beautifully performed, made all the more powerful for being centered in the heart of the Cross itself at The Old Fitz.

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