The Other Way

Mostly my theatre outings are relegated to the blog that appears in the right-hand column here. But as very few of my readers will have a chance to see The Other Way, here it is in the main body.

The Other Way, written and directed by Stefo Nantsou, is the third annual collaboration between the Sydney Theatre Company and Bankstown Youth Development Service (BYDS). The ABC’s inferior replacement for Ramona Koval’s Book Show (no disparagement of the excellent Michael Cathcart intended – the Powers That Be seem to have declared non-fiction books to be off limits, a stupidifying limitation) ran an interview yesterday with three people involved in the show, which you can hear here.

The show’s cast includes five professional actors, 23 school students and seven other performers from the community, some of whom wrote pieces On Western Sydney (Westside Publications 2012), an anthology of writing from and about Western Sydney edited by Michael Mohammed Ahmad & Felicity Castagna and produced under the auspices of BYDS. I mention the anthology because, although it wouldn’t be fair to say the show was based on it, there is a shared agenda of putting Western Sydney stories and story-makers into the public eye.

The action takes place in a single day, beginning with an old man summoning his family to prayer and ending with family prayer at night. In between, we see people commuting by train and going about their work days. Three main stories unfold, each involving children lost and found. In the most lighthearted, a woman loses her two small children in a shopping centre and they turn out to have been hiding for the fun of it. A second involves children being removed from a junky mother by Community Services and given into the care of a decent, loving couple. The third, which involves the family from the opening moment and nosy teenagers acting as chorus, has a young woman returning to the family after being missing for a long time. Alice Ansara has some big emotional moments of rock bottom despair as the junky mother, but it’s the story of the young woman returning to her family that is at the heart of the show. The responses of her siblings, her parents and her grandfather are richly complex (not glibly joyful, by any means). Only at the end do we discover why she left, and it’s a powerful statement about the difficulties faced by a generation caught between cultures and the vicious effects of anti-Muslim prejudice.

Binding it all together is brilliant hip-hop artist Matuse. He’s part of the family that prays; the returning daughter tells him her story; his songs provide the time frame and an exuberant conclusion; and his encounters with a little thief are a running joke whose punchline evokes not a laugh but breath of hope.

This isn’t professional/industrial theatre, where success is judged by the length of the run and size of box office takings. It’s community, where the division between audience and performers is porous, where there’s an intimate sense that people are telling their own stories and those of their neighbours. There’s a wonderful scene where a group of boys are teasing/harassing a group of girls, who are giving back as good as they get. In the middle of the chiacking and posturing one of the girls looks one of the boys full in the face and says, ‘Hello!’ and the group falls silent. The whole thing falls apart, moves onto a different planet. Sure, it was scripted and stylised, but it felt right then and there.

Just before the show started, a section, not of the audience but of the cast. I didn't get my hands on a program so can't say names, but from the left:

Just before the show started, a section, not of the audience but of the cast. I didn’t get my hands on a program so can’t say names, but from the left: a young man who did spectacular leaps to impress a young woman; two players of multiple minor characters; the junkie mother / train ticket collector; younger sister of the returning young woman / girl who was impressed by the boy’s athleticism; neglected son of the junkie;  Community Services worker / mother of the praying family / drummer; mother and two children from the lost-in-the-mall story.

The Other Way is on again tonight and tomorrow night and tomorrow morning (that is, Wednesday 17 and Thursday 18 July) at the Bankstown Arts Centre where tickets cost $5 or $3 (book at 02 9793 8324), and then Friday evening and Saturday afternoon at the Wharf 2 Theatre at Walsh Bay where there’s no charge, but bookings are essential (02 9250 1777 or online) and maybe impossible.

7 responses to “The Other Way

  1. Kathy Gollan

    Re the Book Show, actually non fiction books were off limits to that program, unless they related to the craft of writing or publishing, or biographies of authors. Other daily programs, like Late Night Live, Life Matters and Breakfast covered non fiction books, so to prevent the same book appearing on more than one program, there had to be some loose restrictions. Speaking as a former Power That Be. I imagine the same applies to Books and Arts Daily for the same reason. The play sounds fantastic.

    • Hi Kathy. I didn’t know you were a Power That Was. I’m sure I remember Ramona in animated conversations with people on extra-literary subjects – maybe it was non-literary books that were excluded, and she managed to include literary non-fiction. Whatever, I’ve been listening to the podcasts recently, and realised that I just couldn’t be bothered staying the distance as an author takes us through the details of their detective character: interviewer and interviewee both working very hard to be interesting and mostly succeeding, but in the end not the same as Ramona, with her background in science, being, well, more interesting.

  2. I’ve long been a Stefo Nantsou fan, since he first popped up acting at Sidetrack. The first show of his that I saw as Zeal Theatre writer/director/performer was The Stones, an excellent two-hander about boys who kill a driver by dropping stones from an overpass. Glad (and not surprised) he’s still doing great work.

  3. Tim Carroll

    Hi Jonathan,

    Great write up – thanks. Nice having you and yours out here again.

    Tim Carroll

  4. Kathy Gollan

    Yes I agree about Ramona being a more interesting interviewer, she was more unpredictable, not afraid to go off on tangents that might or might not throw up some unexpected observation.

    • And not afraid to confess, for example, that she’d never heard of Francis Webb. Her semi outsider status was a great asset – I don’t think she would have said ‘Chookas’ with just the right air of knowingness as Michael Cathcart did when signing off from the BYDS – STC segment. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!