17 March 2018

Review: FOLA, Unknown Neighbours

Unknown Neighbours
Ranters Theatre, Creative VaQi, Theatre Works
15 March 2018
St Kilda
to 18 March

Soo-Yeon Sung . Photo by Andrew Bott

Developed by Melbourne's Ranters Theatre and Seoul's Creative VaQi over four years, Unknown Neighbours is somewhere between a walking meditation and sticky-beaking in stranger's houses and a stranger's head.

Four actors, from both companies, stayed in a house when the owners were away and were left to create. The experience begins at one of the houses; you get the address when you book.

In an Acland Street house – one that no one I know could ever afford – Korean actor Soo-Yeon Sung uses a hand-help projector to Google translate her thoughts about the house, the woman who owns it and how the plants in the garden know that they are loved.

While the house is clean and decluttered enough to be ready for an open real estate inspection, it's hard to hide personality. Still, the heart of the experience is about getting to know Soo-Yeon far more than getting to know who lives there. (Our group  knew that we had the people who lived in the house with us, which made the option of snooping and discovering awkward.)

And this is only part one work.

Next, we followed the performer down one of those streets that's so old-school St Kilda that it's possible to forget just how many chain stores are now open in the malled-up part of Acland Street or that renting here is now so expensive that the groovy people have moved to the burbs. There's the Secret Life of Us exterior block, 1940's deco apartments with round windows and dark staircases, 1970's brick boxes that are hideous on the outside and gloriously huge on the inside, and slick new buildings that blend so well that you have to actively notice them. Or it's walking to the next venue. Or stomping along and feeling a bit sad because you moved to the burbs.

So much of this work is the choice to make your own story. Or listen to the people around you; the things I heard about an actor!

The four house-groups meet in the park by the adventure playground that St Kilda people know about – that's now safe and less adventury. As the sun sets, we can see buildings built in the nineteenth century, and five performers ( I don't know how they were shared among the houses) gather in front of a tent.

There's a guitar, wind chimes and a dog.

I repeat, there's a dog.

On the way back to Theatre Works – there is a lot of walking –, a little girl waves from the window of a 1970s brick box. She seems shocked that only a couple people notice her.

After a quick trip through Anglican church built in the 1850s, it's time to sit in the theatre and watch as the pieces of the last couple of hours float into place and. And the dog totally stole the show.

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