We, the crowd, both young and old, were ushered into the darkened ATYP theatre, making our way around sleeping bodies and through the sounds of night. Seats were taken and morning broke in 'Bustown', the new play penned by Griffin Award-winning playwright Lachlan Philpott held at the Australian Theatre for Young People in The Wharf Theatre complex.
We, the crowd, both young and old, were ushered into the darkened ATYP theatre, making our way around sleeping bodies and through the sounds of night.
Seats were taken and morning broke in Bustown, the new play penned by Griffin Award-winning playwright Lachlan Philpott held at the Australian Theatre for Young People in The Wharf Theatre complex.
Centering on a group teenagers in the post apocalyptic settlement that bears the title’s name, we are presented with a bizarre vision of the future. Language has devolved into simplified singulars, buzzwords, slogans and trademarks. The characters’ names are all based on models of cars and the whole town awaits the return of the mythical Driver, who it is told, will take them back to The Otherness, of which barely anything is remembered.
Out of the motley crew stand Axel (Peter Jamieson), who stands in a vigilant watch for the Driver, Capella (Heather Campbell), daughter of bed-ridden town-founder Sylvia (Stefanie Smith), and Cortina (Emily Morrison), the mechanically minded and bow-legged sister of Axel.
Axel has grown tired of waiting for the Driver, as has Capella, who has just found a mysterious photograph that pushes her further towards the idea of leaving Bustown.
The inhabitants of Bustown meet during the day to recite The Remembering, listing alphabetically everything that seems important to the audience today, but makes almost no sense to the characters in the world of the play.
They don’t want to forget whatever it was that was left behind in The Otherness, according to fractured thoughts and words of Sylvia. But in not knowing the truth and not being able to see it for themselves, Axel and Cortina make plans for their escape.
Above it all circle the Punkbirds (Ellen Bailey, Sarah Bishop, Joshua Longhurst & Max Rapley), four wizened crows, with hardly any feathers left, that whisper and hiss their hazy knowledge to Cortina and act as a Greek Chorus for the audience, all the while hanging from tire swings and the pillars of the theatre itself.
Bustown is a uniquely Australian theatre experience which is commendable, but may result in audience alienation if done overseas, as most of the intermittent, laugh-out-loud lines simply sailed over this reviewer’s American guest’s head.
The language used is saturated with local colloquialisms, the characters are all tinged red by the relentless sun and even good-old Aussie corrugated iron is made reference to.
Philpott’s approach to a post-apocalyptic wasteland is thought provoking while remaining optimistic.
Instead of a peaceful possible-world or one filled with mutants a la Mad Max, we are given a probable and unique ‘what-if?’ situation. The Wrinklies are still in charge, young people do what they are told, and everyone has a mirror around their necks with which to ‘Signal Driver’, if he ever comes.
Under the tight directing of Amy Hardingham, Bustown comes across as quite a special beast.
The sound design and lighting are without fault, David Kirkpatrick keeps our ears filled with what seems like a melting of wind and white noise, while Alex Drummond keeps the fade ins and fade outs smooth and the final shadow scene is winner, even if it is a somewhat overdone concept.
Bustown is a success, another notch in the belt for theatre star Philpott, as well for the young and talented crew at the ATYP.
ATYP Studio 1, The Wharf
Pier 4/5 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay
22 Sep – 4 Oct 2009
About the author
Chard Core is a freelance writer, amateur stand-up comedian, musician and cultural chronicler. He currently resides in Sydney, but is prepared to relocate at a moment’s notice of a zombie outbreak.