Reviewed by Ellen Becker
Youth-focused arts collective Shop Front has been providing opportunities for young artists to develop, experiment and showcase their work for more than 40 years. They launched their ‘Arts Lab’ residency program in 2007, providing young creatives the opportunity to be paired with an established artist as mentor for an incredibly generous six months. For their finished product to be showcased at the prestigious Belvoir St Theatre is an incredible win for the young creatives involved, but also testament to the history of Belvoir and before it, Nimrod Theatre, of supporting Australian talent.
This year’s Arts Lab Residency has produced Treats, a pairing of two vastly different pieces. The first piece, Unit, entailed the audience lounging around the theatre, including on the stage, each with individual headsets telling the same tale. The story, written by Kirby Medway, follows a group of disparate but linked young people protesting a development. Interspersed in the groups oscillating passion or indifference, is the story of a property developer stuck in a lift. Medway’s idea behind the unusual delivery of the piece is an ‘audiobook’ or ‘short story,’ but the delivery is strange in the intimacy of the downstairs theatre, alienating the audience though they’re all hearing the same story. Perhaps the piece may have worked better if there were a smattering of individual stories heard, each character in the tale telling only their own story, and the audience members would then have to piece together the multiple perspectives during the intermission – separating the audience only to pull them back together again.
The second piece, The Carousel, is a bristling, beautiful story of two sisters sharing a room, as well as the slings and arrows of growing up. We follow Christa (Tasha O’Brien) and Jamie (Alex Francis) as they course through childhood to puberty to adulthood. From the first tampon to the first truly disappointing life experiences, Christa tries to guide her younger sister through it all, and even if her advice isn’t near as sophisticated as she believes it to be, her heart is always in the right place. For the most part, the events in the piece are ordinary, but the exceptional performances from both young actresses paired with Pippa Ellams’ taut and witty script, forge a thoroughly compelling and convincing story. I would love to see this work fleshed out into a full-length play – fingers crossed that they’ll get the chance.
To support young creatives and to see what else Shop Front has in the works, check out their website.
Photos by: She's an Artist