Watch and Act was written by and stars Katie McAllister in her theatre writing debut. McAllister is a writer and performer who grew up in Menang and Pibulmen Noongar Boodjar in Albany and Denmark. McAllister has worked for ABC Radio PERTH, ABC Great Southern and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). She made her stage debut earlier this year as a roller derby star in Ugly Virgins at the Blue Room Theatre. In Watch and Act, McAllister has turned her experiences reading emergency warnings over the radio during the Black Summer and Woorooloo Bushfires, into a one-woman 'anti-comedy' show about mental health, living with OCD symptoms, climate change anxiety, and nostalgia.
In an interview on Saturday Breakfast with Roanna Edwards, McAllister spoke with Edwards about what inspired her to write Watch and Act. Before it was a stage play, Watch and Act started as an honours thesis, that McAllister wrote as a creative writing exercise. She thought it would be interesting to examine the watch and act warning system and the options that are given to people in a crisis. After she completed her thesis, she decided to adapt it into a stage play. Her experiences reading watch and act messages over the radio, coupled with growing up in the bush have made McAllister very concerned about climate change and the impact it will have on the idyllic countryside that she grew up in. It's a dark subject but McAllister believes that the best comedies spring from tragic soil.
Katie McAllister learned a lot spending a summer reading Watch and Act messages over the radio
A very talented team of creative people helped McAllister to bring Watch and Act to the Blue Room Theatre. Director Michelle Endersbee (ARADIA, Super-Fanny-Tastic) does a fantastic job translating McAllister's script to the stage. Sound designer Georgina Cramond (Interrupting a Crisis) has created an emotional soundscape that blends together McAllister's watch and act messages with sound clips from Notting Hill (1999) and interviews with Nigella Lawson, Jacinda Ardern and Christiana Figueres (one of the authors of the 2015 Paris Agreement). The show also features the talents of production designer Clare Testoni (Tale of Tales, The Double), lighting designer Kristie Smith (Every Brilliant Thing, In Case of Emergency), stage manager Maddy Mullins and acting mentor Andrea Gibbs.
I really enjoyed Watch and Act. We learn a lot about McAllister in the show, who tells us stories about growing up as a kid in Albany and Denmark, while facing the audience on a stage decorated to look like a karri forest. McAllister has such a relaxing, calming voice. As she reminisces about growing up in an adorable wooden cottage on an old asparagus farm, I felt completely transported back in time. When she tells us about how her mother used to put their pyjamas in a wooden stove to warm them up, her face shines with amusement. You can tell how much she loves her childhood. When she talks about her country life, the lighting is soft and blue. You hear sounds of crashing waves and see flashes of Julia Robert's face from Notting Hill appear on the backdrop. You can tell she is in her happy place.
When the topic of conversation turns to climate change, the lights in the room turn blood red, and we hear McAllister issue a watch and act message for Denmark. There is a out of control bushfire rapidly approaching the town and it is now too perilous for people to leave. Her face falls. She looks terrified. And this brings us to the main message of the show: how do we cope with the impending climate catastrophe? How do we deal with the anxiety, the grief, and the sense of doom? Do we need a new kind of emergency warning system... or Nigella Lawson?
Watch and Act takes an interesting look at mental health. In a world where we are bombarded with news 24/7, it can be easy to start doom scrolling, which is when we get into the habit of continuously checking the news for sad, disheartening or depressing stories. In Watch and Act, McAllister is very worried about climate change, but tries to distract herself from doing too much doomstrolling about it. On a road trip to Albany, she puts on the soundtrack to Notting Hill and pretends she is travelling with Nigella Lawson, Jacinda Ardern and Christiana Figueres. This is the way she has learned to cope with the stress of climate change and living with OCD. Nostalgia is her escape.
McAllister has stated that she knows talking about climate change all the time can feel overwhelming, so she hopes that people will find the humour in the show funny, and will give them a greater appreciation for this country, this beautiful time and place, before it is gone forever. Watch and Act is currently showing at the Blue Room Theatre until Saturday, 16 October 2021. The show runs for 55 minutes, is suitable for people 15 years and older and starts at 7pm. Full price tickets are $30.00 and concession tickets are $25.00. To secure tickets for Watch and Act, please click here.