By George Dixon
One of the nice things about Melbourne’s St Martins Youth Art Center is they are not shy about bringing new and interesting things for us to experience.
Us. is such a project. In many ways, it’s strangely familiar, yet individually different. There are some things you understand yet you don’t necessarily see the significance, partly because of culture, and partly because the dots are not always connected.
This production is inspiring, drawing on real-life experiences of four families. It explores the differences while gracefully unfolding, not only their connectedness, but also the connectedness of the audience.
This play is skillfully designed, scripted and directed with On-Line audiences in mind. It is as natural as real life with minimal enhancements. As the audience, you are seeing and hearing everything through the camera lens be it from a laptop, or smartphone, sometimes the phone is mounted, other times it’s handheld or attached to a selfie stick.
The play opens in the dark with a young girl studying; the only light is from a battery headband light. I did wonder “what’s going on here” but that didn’t last for too long, as the first family introduces themselves in a documentary style.
The introduction and background information not only provides the hub of their existence, the illustrations, and how this information is given, provides the spokes which touch all of us as it does the outside rim of a wheel.
The casting is perfect considering that it’s all actual families, mothers, fathers, daughters, brothers and sisters.
Us. as a production, has all the typical elements associated with any play, the beautiful part of this experience rests in how masterfully it is all hidden by the fine acting work of each family, and the professionalism of the crew.
Written by Morgan Rose, the character development and the unfolding story becomes a master class for any budding writer. Katrina Cornwell’s direction is superb, bringing the families to life, and allowing them to interact through the lens, as they tell their own stories.
Sets and Costumes, although hard to believe as most of the events happen in their homes, were skilfully created by Emily Collett. For me, there were two standout elements, the wonderful use of post-it notes, and the outstanding elegance and simplicity of the living room bed sheet tent/house.
Hats off to Justin Gardam, Sound Design and Technical Director, running a live performance remotely across four locations with minimal equipment is a demonstration of your skills and talent. The complete performance came across in such a natural way including differences in the sound levels, which is something you would expect in real life.
The Stage Management of the play was handled by Jacinta Anderson. Congratulations to your stage crew, the co-ordinations and crossing between families along with the split-screen activities were very impressive.
For a live project of this size where there is no place to hide I would give 5 stars.
If nothing else the price of the ticket is well worth the experience.
There is no doubt that the cast members:
Julia Chilcott • Ashanti Joy • Paula Reid • Jackson Reid • Samuel Gaskin •Raelah Piata Lascelles • Jessy Soliman • Noray Hosny.
All had a lot of fun, what they may not as yet realise is that they have made history with this production.
There is so much more to say about Us. However to unwrap more would be to deny the audience of experiencing the true impact and realisation, which is the purpose of Us.
I will leave you with a statement from one of the children.
“You can’t really learn anything until you learn it.”
St Martins Youth Art Center play “Us.”
Is live online via zoom.
July 30th and 31stAugust 1st, 5th, 6th and 7th.