To Be Honest, written and directed by Stefo Nantsou, produced by BYDS (Bankstown Youth Development Service) and YOTS (Youth Off The Streets)
This is an excellent piece of theatre, on for just five nights, counting the preview on Tuesday. What I write here might make it sound worthy, but if ‘worthy’ sometimes implies ‘dull’ it certainly doesn’t in this case.
This is the sixth theatrical work that Stefo Nantsou, formerly of the Sydney Theatre Company, has produced at the Bankstown Arts Centre (I’ve blogged about two of them, here and here). Amirah Amin, a social worker at Youth Off The Streets in Bankstown recognised that it would be great if Nantsou could create a show from the stories of the disadvantaged young people she saw as clients. Backed by Tim Carroll, CEO of BYDS, with funding from the NSW government’s Stronger Communities program, Nantsou took up the idea, interviewed a number of YOTS clients, and with their permission created To Be Honest from their responses.
Rather than shape his source material into an over-all narrative or a conventional well-made play, Nantsou opted for a verbatim theatre approach – in effect a collection of interwoven monologues, complete with the repetitions, stumbles and unfinished sentences of actual speech, punctuated by finely judged interactive moments. There’s music – background provided by a handful of musicians, and several big musical numbers, including a rap by one of the ‘informants’ appearing as himself.
The stories – of bullying, illness, homelessness, drug addiction, racism, migration, and above all resilience – are not so much showcased as made viscerally present.
Evidently the preview night was attended by a number of the people whose stories the play tells. Someone said the atmosphere that night was electric, whereas last night’s audience was like ordinary theatregoers. Speaking as an ordinary theatregoer, I was pretty electrified. It’s hard to single out individual performances, but hyper Aanisa Vylet, Bilal Hafda (recognisable from the Bankstown Poetry Slam) and rapper Matuse Peace gave riveting performances, and Esana Tanaki’s singing was heart melting.
Stefo Nantsou says, ‘In many ways I think Bankstown is creating work for the whole of Australia.’ He’s right. This evening produced the kind of buzz I remember from the early days of the Nimrod in Sydney or the Pram Factory in Melbourne: voices that need to be heard are being given a space to speak.