Race is a complicated matter and people experience it very differently. The experience of race is intersectional, shaped by factors such as gender, nationality, sexuality, physicality, and accent. The Neighbourhood brings on stage seven personal stories to unearth racial diversity in the Australian context, a place which due to colonisation is now a kaleidoscope of world cultures.
The seven actors give the audience snippets of their intersectional experience of race. Their stories are intimate, and I commend the actors for their bravery in sharing them so candidly. They felt honest and vulnerable and were communicated with empathy. They cast a light on stereotypes and “casual” racism. They remark on the challenges of integrating different cultural experiences into one life. Above all, they highlight that resilience starts from a place of vulnerability, and that we come to our power when we learn to own the good and the bad of our life experiences.
The strength of The Neighbourhood is in the way that it embraces diversity: of actors, experiences, and skills. The actors tell their stories not only with words, but also through their artistic pursuits. When words fell short, music, storytelling, acting, spoken words, composition, rapping, and dancing assist the expression of complex and contradictory inner worlds.
Art is also presented as medicine, coping mechanism, and spiritual guide that helps the actors navigate and reconcile their experiences of race. For example, composer and multi-instrumentalist Matt Hsu creates a multi-layered composition mixing musical genres that have defined his life from metal to jazz and folk music. This overlapping of melodies is unexpected, unplanned, unheard. It is also creative, fresh, and inspiring. The diversity of Hsu’s life experiences and backgrounds gives him an edge as a musician and as a human being.
On the downside, the seven stories hang loose, not held together by a unifying theme. This makes the play feel unstructured, and the sudden jumps from one story to the other are often overwhelming, also because the stories are not light-hearted. Each of them deserves more time and attention that cannot be given under the conditions of the presentation. This is a case when less would have been more.
The play tackles an important theme, the experience of race in Australia, but does so with a level of didacticism that takes away from the aesthetic experience. The desire to present seven different experiences using both narrative and artistic forms is ambitious, and works to celebrate multiculturalism rather than to help reflect on the challenges of diversity.
The Neighbourhood opened on the
Presented by La Boite & Multicultural Australia, in association with Empire Theatre.
Co-Creators Todd MacDonald, Aleea Monsour, & Ari Palani, Lighting Design Ben Hughes, Sound Design Brady Watkins and Set & Costume Adam Gardnir.