Review: Dancing Naked In The Backyard (Brave New Word)

bravenewwordVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Apr 15 – 26, 2014
Playwright: C.J. Naylor
Director: Travis Kecek
Actors: Matt Hopkins, Zasu Towle, Estelle Healey, Alan Long, Sam Smith, Sascha Hall, Kara Stewart

Theatre review
Contentious issues in our daily lives can make for great theatre. Dancing Naked In The Backyard explores over-development in suburbia, and attempts to make an argument for population growth control in residential areas. A shady character Reland, spearheads the Sylvan Towers project that will see construction of six-storey apartment blocks on quiet Hinton Street. In opposition is the clean cut Derwent who makes it his mission to stop the project from being approved by local government.

The premise is simple, and the production is plain. The script and direction are straightforward in what they wish to say, but what results is a show that feels overly didactic, and the lack of complexity in their argument makes for scenes that feel repetitive. The themes being discussed are not uninteresting, but the characterisation of Derwent representing good and Reland bad, is too obviously unbalanced and consequently, unconvincing.

Derwent is played by Matt Hopkins who does his best at channelling his character’s conviction into his own performance. The material he works with is not always strong, but he is believable and charming in the role. Hopkins has great presence, and his eagerness in connecting with co-actors gives him a sense of polish, and conveys confidence. Estelle Healey is memorable as the highly idiosyncratic Nancy. At times funny, and at others awkward, she might not always hit her marks but she is definitely a magnetic personality that adds exuberance to the stage.

The play clearly has a point to make, but its one-sided approach can cause its audience to question the validity of the debate at hand. Lamenting the introduction of low rise apartments into an idyllic suburb is romantic, but our daily lives point to a realistic perspective that is not sufficiently represented in the work. Backyards with unobstructed views are very nice to have, and almost everyone dreams of owning one, but when that privilege runs out, and we seek to mourn its disappearance, it is important to first scrutinise the rights we claim to have over this piece of earth we inhabit.

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