Review By Tash Bradshaw
Way tells a powerful and essential story about a growing group of people who are rarely seen and often ignored: older women experiencing homelessness.
Sally McKenzie’s remarkable skill is exemplified as she throws herself into playing five distinct characters, leaving the audience with no doubt about their unique stories and struggles.
The play centres around Lynne, who is passionate about telling women’s stories through her documentary, but with a constant downward spiral of her teaching hours getting cut, calls from her rental agent, calling the bank to check her balance, trying to borrow more money from her sick mother, and delays in the broadcast of her documentary, she is increasingly tinkering on the brink of homelessness herself. Lynne’s character creates a powerful demonstration of how quickly a one thing can go wrong and lead you down a path you never thought possible.
Through the lense of Lynne, we hear the stories of four real, researched women, who feature in her documentary. There is Zahra, currently in a women’s refuge. She went to a ‘nice school’ and was a successful lawyer, but left an abusive marriage only to succumb to a gambling addiction. There is Lily, who keeps calling Lynne from the phone box, and just wants order. There is Maysie who sells items she finds on etsy, with a little help from Mrs Toorak’s garbage drops. And Julie, a very polite beggar who sleeps at southern cross station with her dog.
McKenzie’s brilliant performance is helped by clever staging to give us a markers for each character, including a telephone box, crate stool, cardboard box of items, and five chairs with different coloured cardigans. Meanwhile, J David Franzke’s remarkable sound production captures everything from the cityscape noise to the lingering fizz of a dissolving aspirin.
Visual prompts are also used to reinforce the story. We see glimpses of the women in the documentary with their voices overlayed. Lynne wants to give the women a face, and to tell their story to help others, but in a demonstration of the isolation and loss of self that comes with homelessness, their faces are not shown in the film. Instead, we see images of their hands, of pill bottles and silhouettes, no zooming in on their tears “Lynne is not making pity porn, she doesn’t want to manipulate the audience, she wants to agitate towards awareness and change.”
Another visual prompt used throughout the play is a curated set of statistics about the problem of growing homelessness and risks of homelessness amongst older women, shown in text on the screen. Most notably, that the number of older women experiencing homelessness has increased 31 per cent in the past five years, to become the fastest growing group of homeless people.
While older women make up a very small proportion of the current homeless population, a series of risk factors is leaving them increasingly vulnerable, including incidences of family domestic violence, caring responsibilities reducing their ability to work and accumulate superannuation throughout their lifetimes, and the costs of divorce. This play expertly details these risks, and the potential consequences that follow.
Urgency and repetition are key themes explored throughout the play. Lynne’s urgency and focus on her documentary is repeatedly displayed as she rushes to hang up the phone from Lily and her mother and get back to her work, and elevated by the soundscape. This scene repeats itself with increasing intensity throughout the film, as Lynne’s life spirals. Repetition also occurs between the documentary being screened and the re-enactments of the women, but it’s not clear whether this is to remind the viewer who is who, or to reinforce the message. Either way, skilful acting and an already-strong message make this repetition unnecessary and reduces the speed and punch of the play.
This is an important and timely work.