Review: Belle Of The Cross (Harlos Productions / Sydney Independent Theatre Company)

sitco2Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Nov 18 – 29, 2014
Playwright: Angelika Fremd
Director: David Ritchie
Cast: Gertraud Ingeborg, Colleen Cook
Image by Katy Green Loughrey

Theatre review
Sydney’s Kings Cross is completely unique. Always controversial, vibrant and newsworthy, the area is a tiny geographical spot, but its infamy reaches far and wide. Residents of the precinct range from the very wealthy to the impoverished, including the homeless who often gravitate towards its parks and colourful alleyways. Angelika Fremd’s Belle Of The Cross is not biographical, but Belle is a composite, created from Fremd’s observations of “streeties” in the neighbourhood during her eight years at the Cross. The play is poetic, atmospheric and emotional, with only a light narrative thread holding scenes together. The writer depicts the extraordinary community with affection and dignity, rejecting contexts of mental illness that might cause a reductive reading of her subject matter.

Direction of the work by David Ritchie is sensitive to the considerations of the script, and he builds a sense of grace into the production, but its unrelenting gentleness prevents sufficient dramatic tension from taking hold. Scene changes tend to be overly subtle, with indistinct shifts in time and mood. Gertraud Ingeborg’s performance in the title role personifies warmth and sincerity. Her focus is impressive, and even though the stillness in her presence gives weight to the show, a lack of tonal variation results in a character that does not seem to develop adequately. Belle is an interesting personality that we have a lot of curiosity about, but the play needs to provide more insight to satisfy our desire to know her.

We all have times of loneliness, but Belle’s struggle is to do with isolation and aloneness. Although she is quite content with her own company, we must question our capacity and willingness as neighbours and community to furnish an environment that is safe and nourishing. Homelessness is a complex issue, one that crosses paths with a society’s stance on human rights and its economic ideologies. Belle Of The Cross gives a voice to the often seen but rarely heard, and is therefore essential and important, if we believe ourselves to be civilised.

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