Review: New Balance (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Apr 19 – 23, 2023
Creators: Christopher Bryant, Emma Palackic
Cast: Christopher Bryant
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
In the one-person show New Balance, Christopher Bryant declares himself queer and disabled, wearing those labels like one would badges of honour, when returning from fighting for causes of immense consequence. In polite society, those labels of identification are of course discouraged from prominent enunciation, because the cis-white-straight-ableist hegemony would always prefer to deny, that their prejudices are in fact fundamental, to how each of our lives is structured. They want us to subscribe to the convenient notion that all people are the same, in order that so many of the injustices they steadfastly establish and perpetuate, are allowed to operate in stealth.

Their gaslighting, and our cultural delusion, is addressed by New Balance, a brilliantly engrossing 60-minute show created by Bryant and Emma Palackic, to firmly renounce that collective refusal to acknowledge the gremlins in our system, put in place to privilege the few, but that are perversely upheld by the masses. The show asserts otherness from a location that is both queer and disabled, two conceptions of experiences that seem at face value, to be distinct and separate, but through the articulation of a performer who inhabits both identities simultaneously, it becomes clear that the politics of otherness, only ever functions one way. The narrative of routine ostracism, and of persistent exclusion, is powerfully represented by Bryant’s unvarnished performance style, devoid of pretension and of formalist technique, existing only in the space of theatre, to speak intimately and persuasively from human to human.

Bryant and Palackic’s text, which includes first-person contributions from Jamila Main, Rebekah Robertson, Anthony Severino and Jacqueline Tooley, is a deeply evocative expression of life on the outside. Video projections by Justin Gardam, along with sound recordings of confessional voices, offer meaningful enhancement to all the sensitive divulgements, that are surprising yet familiar, in their honest encapsulation of a diverse humanity. Lighting design by Chris Milburn add sensuality to proceedings, to make us feel a certain palpable corporeality, that keeps these thoughts being so staunchly shared on stage, to link resolutely to our own bodies.

New Balance seeks to dismantle that which has long been instituted as pristine, and reconstitutes that which is deemed immaculate, to refute the many exclusionary tendencies of how we organise our lives. It reminds us fervently, that much as we experience challenges differently, our humanity can only ever be uniformly perfect.