Lost: 5

Melinda Keyte

A series of monologues on those suffering homelessness in Melbourne by award- winning playwright Daniel Keene. A searing, poignant and nuanced production that pulls at every heart string.
Lost: 5

Poppy Seed Theatre Festival, Lost: 5 by Daniel Keene and Illumi-Nation Theatre (22 Nov – 3 Dec). Image caption – Fleur Murphy. Photo (c) Jules Tahan, UA Creative. Supplied.

Who are we, and where are we going? That is the rhetorical question that underpins the entire exploration of homelessness and identity in Daniel Keene and Illumi-Nation Theatre’s production, Lost: 5, for the Poppy Seed Theatre Festival.

Each of the five characters in Lost: 5 stray very far away from the standard negative depictions, and convenient stereotypes we constantly assign to most homeless people. The production successfully lifts the lid on the: 'Just what do they do with themselves, and how did they get like that' attitudes that reflect 'our' judgmental thoughts and conversations about the homeless. If we’re honest, that can only be entertained by privileged people and those simply more fortunate than they are – either through circumstances of birth, good health, luck or even chance. We, the audience in Lost:5, actually spend time with these people, instead of defining ourselves as distinct from – or separate to them. We, are instead, invited to listen to each one of their distinctive voices and to hear their stories. We’re encouraged to hear precisely who they are, instead of falling into the usual lazy practice of ignoring them as we rush past in the street on our way to buy another latte, or a healthy, nutritious lunch.

These homeless people have wisdom, insight, intelligence, awareness, sensitivity, courage, and a sense of humour. These people do not beg for alms or come too close to us. These people don’t make us feel uncomfortable as they plead and cry plaintively for help, or use language that we would consider vulgar – except to make us laugh. These people tell us who they are, what their lives consist of and what they subsist on. All we have to do is remain quiet, and present to their honesty, and most importantly their vulnerability. Some people in the audience couldn’t do that which baffled me.

The performances were utterly mesmerizing; precisely because the identities, back stories, history and specificity of suffering for each identity was rendered with such a profound and tender beauty that the writing alone made you draw breath. And then there were the performances. Unlike a Charles Dickens treatise on the ills of an unjustly tiered society in which the rich despise the poor, what we have here is a contemporary calamity of our own making to digest.

In the first of Keene’s monologues chosen by director Michelle McNamara and directed with an experienced and sensitive eye for shape-shifting detail, a woman (Fleur Murphy) hoards everything that people in a field have given her as they board a train, never to return. Is this a holocaust reading from Poland’s dark past or just something in her imagination? Murphy’s Eastern European accent is not quite successful in tone or pitch – but her portrayal is executed with extreme poise and sensitivity as she inhabits this woman’s trajectory to perfection. A practical girl (Stephanie Pick) who doesn’t often get the chance to speak to an anyone, charmingly elucidates her loneliness and isolation for us until she finds a dead baby. It’s both something to love and something for her to hold that gives comfort to her. A more strident and eccentric woman (Kiniesha Nottle) who ‘performs’ her character with energetic wit and engaging fervour is both an actor-in-role, and a fallen heroine who craves the audience’s attention with her direct addresses – thus she preserves her psyche from exposure to the true reality of her circumstances.

There is a divine mercurial young man (Pearce Hessling), who talks of birds. So ethereal, so fragile, so sweet and almost invisible but for the poetry of his words.

And then there is the man on the bed (Marty Rhone) whose 'leave me my name' Miller like cry from The Crucible, 'stick me like a pig, stick me like a pig' is delivered in a ferment of sheer anguish and pain at his lost love. His grief so palpable you can almost hear it cracking against the walls.

The soundscape by mybro (Matt Brown) is wonderfully elegiac and reflects with sublime simplicity each monologue's title whilst showing us the elements, rhythms and the throng of the city streets that are both multi-sensory and hypnotic.

The set is simple and highly effective. A pile of milk crates suggests back alleys and lanes behind busy restaurants. Sparse wooden benches provide meagre smatterings of shelter for the travellers.

Striking lighting detail is thrown upwards – splashing across a concrete wall, at once like the reflected neon’s that spring off billboards and also a painful reminder of the warm interiors that exist elsewhere.

This is subtle but subversive theatre that humanises all the characters and speaks to a deeper and compassionate understanding of homelessness. An uncompromising must-see work.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Lost :5 by Daniel Keene 
Illumination Theatre for The Poppy Seed Theatre Festival
Director: Michelle McNamara
Performers: Fleur Murphy, Kiniesha Nottle, Marty Rhone, Pearce Hessling, Stephanie Pick
Lighting Designers: Jason Bovaird, Maddy Seach
Composer/Sound Designer: mybro (Matt Brown)
Photographer: Sarah Steiner
Irene Mitchell Studio, St Martin’s Lane, South Yarra until December 9

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

A writer, theatre maker and performing arts education specialist.