I am a director, playwright, and theatre critic with a Masters in Writing for Performance. You can check out my my portfolio and musings at www.samsaradunston.blogspot.com.au
Passion and poverty in public housing pandemonium
The Owl and Cat Theatre is a dynamic independent theatre in Richmond and apart from their curated seasons of theatre, they also run a part-time acting school. To showcase the talents of their current batch of students, Artistic Director Thomas Ian Doyle has written Petty Cash, a thrilling and thought-provoking look at the lives of people in our public housing estates.
Petty Cash starts with a fun premise. Centrelink has decided to give a housing estate money which can either be used to create a peace garden or a lending library. The occupants of apartment 1 and apartment 19 are on opposite sides of the debate and begin campaigns to support their cause.
As the residents and neighbours try to work together in their factions, the stresses of their ordinary daily lives threaten the fragile balance of the alliances. Whilst the campaigns begin with the usual idea of flyers and sausage sizzles things become tense and ideas become wilder and wilder as fatigue, poverty, and the harsh realities of their lives feed their desperation to win at least one thing in their lives.
Doyle has created a wonderful ensemble script and directors Gabrielle Savrone and Carolyn Dawes have taken on this sense of competition by each directing opposing teams. The audience are also divided between the apartments and I couldn't help cheering although I realised I accidentally cheered for the wrong team. Oops.
This ensemble of aspiring actors are incredibly dynamic, performing with great vitality and wonderful attention to character. Serena Del Prete is particularly engaging as a young prostitute with a heart of gold. Luke Peverall explores the frustration of paraplegia and Alessandra Fidani is absolutely genius as the exhausted mother of a young child who won't stop crying. I was almost falling off my seat with laughter over her relationship with the baby monitor.
Unfortunately the story turns very tragic as Peyton (Finn Lloyd) acts out his confused relationship with his mother ((Mazz Ryan). Interestingly, Doyle ends this play without ending the story leaving us to mull over the complex relationships and ramifications of what has occurred in front of our very eyes. Even Paddy (Timothy Wood) goes from being comic to a figure of despair as we see what the consequences of our poor public dental system can be.
Blood, boobs and babies abound in the dark comi-tragedy. There are a few dramaturgical issues, in particular towards the end where the worlds start to cross over. It is at this point the separated direction stops working.
Overall, though, Petty Cash is a rousing night of theatre with really good ideas and excellent energy. If this is what the Owl and Cat actor training gives us, we have a lot to look forward to.