Saw Hoods at the Street Theatre last night, a play-reading directed by Bridget Balodis, performed by Na Milthorpe and a dude named James O’Connell. It was preceded by Human Geographies, a 50 minute long kitchen-sink family drama by Aeden Whyatt, focusing on two Israeli siblings in the Gaza Strip, which was honest and well-intentioned and capably performed, but honestly hit its climactic peak about six minute in and then continued in that same strident note for almost an hour. There were moments of sheer crackle and spark scattered throughout, which kept me going throughout, but by the end I was quantities of detatched.
So okay then Hoods, written by Angela Betzien for Real TV. Hoods was one of the other shows touring around South Australia for the Come Out Festival in 2007, while I was stage-managing Jigsaw’s Flotsam and Jetsam. We were on a similar touring trajectory to Real TV, and one night we wound up in the same remote motel on the edge of the Nullarbor. Everyone who saw Hoods raved about it, but because our timetables overlapped, I never got to check it out until last night.
It was good. It was very good. Na and James sat on chairs wearing hoodies. When the hoods were up, they were narration – a single stream of narration chopped into two voices, sometimes overlapping and sometimes throwing back and forth to each other several times within a sentence. It’s sub-suburban Australia, all carparks train stations public parks late-night petrol station, described in a series of high-speed fragments hovering near the line where narration turns into fruity awkwardness, but not once did the rhymes or images jar with me. It was like ghetto Dr Seuss, or like the bit in Hairy Mclairy where the sausage dog gets trapped in a barbed wire fence in the junkyard. Which is, unless you’re a fucking arsehole, great.
When the hoods were off, Na and James were a range of characters, centreing on a young brother and sister (somewhere between Kindergarten and Year 4, by my estimation) whose mother has left them in the car with their baby brother while she runs some errands. While they wait, they see people moving through the carpark who might be their dad, their nan, their dad’s friend Mick, their teacher… It never is, but every time they think they recognise someone, they transform into that character and act out a ten-second long scene they’ve experienced with that person. So it’s top-down helicopter-eye view of suburban wasteland mixed with unsettlingly accurate 8-12 year old backseat restlessness mixed with sparing but vivid snapshots from a world not even one degree of separation away –
– glimpses of the kids plucking their mother’s arm for a packet of Nerds at the counter while she’s asking the clerk to try her card again, she knows there’s some money on it, she got paid today – or the school councillor asking the girl why she never takes her jumper off and gently ignoring her requests to let her sleep over at his house – or the teacher contemptuously scolding the boy because he smells of dead cat – or their mum telling them that she’s fine, she’s not going anywhere, while their dad smiles and feeds her the words – such simple, clear fragments, combining to paint such a vivid picture. Not a complete picture, mind, there were huge gaps and questions left hanging, but holy shit – how in half an hour you could sketch such a diverse and lucid portrait of a family I have no conception.
Then the two kids waiting in the car; every exchange, every expression was completely convincing. I remembered it all from my own childhood, I think everyone in the audience could – what I can’t understand is how Betzien was able to not only remember it, but dredge it up and put it on the page so clearly. So it’s not just feelings of pity and sympathy as the hours pass and it gradually dawns on the brother and sister that their mother isn’t coming back – it’s being in the car with them, experiencing the confusion and vulnerability and indecision and terror moment by moment.
All of which, by the by, was created by two actors sitting on stage in chairs, reading from scripts. Na and James = stunning. Every character was unique and convincing, every fragmentary scene alive and real from the moment the hoods came down. I’ve never seen O’Connell before, but of the 20 or so performances I’ve seen Na give since 2003, this would have to be my favourite. It had all the haunting melancholy of her performances in Othello or M is for Moon, but it just stepped up the pace. What did Bridget do? This is where the craft of the director mystifies me – how do you get two people on chairs reading out loud from a script and turn them into a flurry of emotion and images so thick and furious it was like driving into a hailstorm?
As always when a performance picks me up by the hair and suckerpunches me, I left the theatre and stumbled into the carpark without hanging around for a chat. Shit like this leaves me with nothing to say.
currency press will sell you a copy of the script, by the way.