Good poetry tackles big ideas, cuts out the unnecessary and makes careful word choices to create powerful imagery and elicit emotion in the reader. It is also often a little elusive to allow us to bring our own meaning and perceptions to a piece. Good theatre is dialectical in the broadest sense and combines sight and sound to engage and challenge us. It makes us think long after we see it.
From its haunting opening to its dramatic conclusion No Ball Games Allowed written by Kristen Smyth and directed by Kitan Petkovski brings the elements of good poetry and theatre together beautifully.
There are only two actors on the stage (Smyth and Mia Tuco), one young, one older, identically dressed in drab clothing that obscures their gender and identity. The set is parred back to almost nothing, the central focus a continuous drip of water falling from high up to a grate in the floor.
I suspect setting this postdramatic theatre during the Blitz in 1941 London was carefully considered. Locating the piece during a time when the Nazi party viewed any kind of individuality as a punishable offense and sent thousands of queer people to concentration camps to endure unspeakable atrocities draws the audiences attention to the themes of discrimination and prejudice that run through it.
In one scene, a young woman is assaulted and the phrase ‘Make the bitch beg’ is hurled repeatedly at the audience, eliciting the fear such an experience imposes. In another, a mother punishes her thirteen year old son for dressing up in her clothes. She wants him to be a strong man because ‘women aren’t safe’. She cannot see or accept her son for who he is. Her own fears blind her to her son’s confusion and struggle with his identity. At one point the mother even tries to blackmail her son into being the vision of a man she had for him, but you cannot substitute money for love or identity.
Repetition draws the audiences attention to the multiple meanings within the piece. At one point the actors tell one another repeatedly ‘I love you’. It highlights the affection between the characters and at the same time the fact that sometimes people are confused about what love is and how to express it appropriately.
The two actors play multiple characters during the lyrical vignettes, yet I was also left with a sense that on one level they were one and the same. A person speaking to themselves across time in an effort to make sense of the hostile world they found themselves in. A world that rejected the very essence of who they were. The affection, tenderness, and at times affirmation, expressed between the actors on stage helps provide the audience relief from the bleakness of the set and themes explored.
No Ball Games Allowed rejects the idea of a simple, logical, causal representation, instead using conflicting, contested and irreconcilable multiple logics to deliver a powerful, mesmerising and thought provoking piece of theatre that will stay with me for some time. It was clear that the writer, director and actors were in harmony, supported by a music composition (Robert Downie and Rachel Lewindon) that magnified the intense, emotive piece.
Images: all images by Cameron Grant
Be careful who you hate, it could be someone you lovewording on billboards across the USA by Gay Day