By Tatum Stafford
There’s a reason this show is making a return following its sell-out season in 2018’s Perth Festival. As the crowd shuffled in for Friday night’s performance, a video of a wave was projected atop of the checkerboard stage, which we would soon discover was constructed to resemble the beloved Summer Bay diner.
The premise for the piece is somewhat simple; that Julia Hales is obsessed with the Australian TV show ‘Home & Away’. But there is so much more that unravels as more of Julia’s friends and interviewees take the stage, and the issue of prejudice against those with down syndrome is immediately and heartbreakingly evident.
Described in the program as a “live documentary”, the piece is comprised of a series of chats, interview sequences, fun-filled dances, audience interaction and monologues by Hales herself. It is a very digestible piece in its style, as there is enough variety between each of its sequences for the audience to settle in and uncover deeper messages along the way.
We are first introduced to dancer Lauren Marchbank, a woman whose passion for dance and movement propels her body across the stage in a lyrical trance. Joshua Bott, one of Hales’ childhood friends also evokes some old-school dance moves to the Bee Gee’s ‘Stayin’ Alive’, and Tina Fielding takes the stage to profess her passion for screenwriting and storytelling. The final additions are tender artist Patrick Carter, and Mark and Melissa Junor, who share a passion for swing dancing and have been married for an impressive 19 years.
Hales’ story is a remarkable and emotional one. Revealing the tragedy of losing her mother and the anguish she felt (and still feels) towards her disability, it is apparent that this show is not only an outlet for Hales to express her lifelong emotions and stories, but a plea to its audience to accept and appreciate those with down syndrome amongst today’s busy society.
The show handled audience participation with ease and was sure to inform hesitant audience members that if they did not feel comfortable joining the piece, the choice was completely theirs (a luxury not often provided in theatrical shows of this nature). Hales was joined on stage by two ‘parents’ and a potential love interest, and these audience members remained on stage for the rest of the show, which provided quite a poignant image of acceptance and appreciation amongst the seated cast of Julia’s friends and interviewees.
The piece is brilliant directed by Clare Watson, whose eye for detail and handling of the story’s heavy message provide the audience with a whole new appreciation of storytelling and theatre. Its conclusion is incredibly heart-warming, as Julia finally gets her moment in the spotlight in a ‘Home & Away’-esque sequence with the beloved Alf Stewart.
As the seminal ‘Home & Away’ theme song blared through the speakers and the cast took the hands of their audience participants to dance, there was not a dry eye in the stalls. The show sends a powerful message about prejudice and is one that I would encourage Perth theatregoers to experience before it ends on the 31st of March.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.