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Review: #NoExemptions at La Mama Theatre

Review by Stephanie Lee

#NoExemptions, a new play written by Angela Buckingham, is an incredibly bleak look at how the impacts of climate change might play out in the future.

The action of the play takes place in one building that is being evacuated with elders sent off to die and remaining food scavenged. It follows a woman Maria waiting for her husband Paul and holding out hope for the return of their son who joined the ‘opposing’ side of the war. From the start of the play it is clear that the woman and her neighbour Eva who is stuck waiting with her are both starving, having survived with little food and water rations in the midst of a war. As the play unfolds the audience are given an insight into what life was like and who might be to blame for these horrible circumstances.

Perhaps now more than ever this play holds a resonance as the world grapples with war in Ukraine and a climate emergency that the Australian government doesn’t seem to be seriously acting on. It angrily points to an older generation’s lack of action in an attempt to make sense of what went wrong and the direness of the future.

However, unfortunately the durational, slow moving pace of the piece makes it hard to become fully immersed into the world of the story. The scope of the play was narrowed down a little too much, taking away some of the impact of the hugeness of the war as it looms too far in the distance with the characters caught up mainly in their own struggles with past mistakes.

Under Susie Dee’s assured direction, performances by Carolyn Bock, Endrico Botha, Helen Hopkins, Hugh Sexton, Eva Seymour are well delivered, balancing the heightened language with the more realism style dialogue well.

The most impressive element of the production was the set design by Sophie Woodward. It is simple, yet an incredibly powerful image with a raised box surrounded by tanbark creating the upstairs/downstairs divide of the play while still keeping an intimate feel. The neon green outlines creating a hallway that Zola trolls while clearing the building allows the audience to witness foregrounded and backgrounded action simultaneously in a very clever way.

Similarly, lighting designed by Gina Gascoigne and sound designed by Ian Moorhead both create a sense of intimacy and tension throughout the performance. In particular, the slow build in the sound generates a sense of urgency where the text lacks a little, especially with the repeated voice overs urging people to evacuate the building.

Overall, #NoExemptions is a frightening look at what the future could be if climate change is allowed to continue progressing as it currently is. While I thought the text fell flat making it tricky for the actors to engage the audience fully, the play undoubtedly has an important message that resonates with the world on multiple levels at the moment.

Image Credit: Darren Gill


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