Theatre is perhaps one of the grandest and most profound forms of human expression, so it is important that No Strings Attached Theatre Of Disability has made it possible for 31 disabled actors to perform for us during this Adelaide Fringe.
The No Strings production of Amplify is a bold and hearty endeavour with three plays in one show; National Assistance Agency (NAA), Idealtown, and Commedia Chaos!
National Assistance Agency (NAA)
There are many reasons to admire this satire of the NDIS and related bodies.
Firstly, the actors created this work by drawing on their lived experiences of having needs but finding their particular situation slipped through the cracks of the bureaucratic guidelines.
Having a stage of desperate, wailing “patients”, obediently “filling out the form” to be considered worthy of help, was a visceral experience of the drama and agony that is replicated thousands of times over around Australia.
Secondly, the structure of the narrative in which our intuitions are teased and toyed with, packs an emotional punch. On one hand, we are saddened and infuriated by how close this is to truth, while on the other hand we laugh out loud at the sheer scale of ludicrousness being played out before us.
And, thirdly, Kathryn Hall’s performance as the main administration officer for the National Assistance Agency was a joy to behold. Not only did she display poise and confidence in her role, but she owned and oozed the indifferent rulings on what cases were approved and which were denied. Did she nail the Aussie vernacular? Yeah, naa.
Mitre Khammash’s direction maintained great coherence from a sprawling cast.
This is another ensemble-developed work with an intriguing synopsis, and Cat Purling has directed this piece in a way that taps into our experiences of enduring election campaigns and their aftermath.
“It is discovered that a small town in South Australia has not been within any electoral boundaries for the last 50 years and Canberra is in chaos about it. Politicians race to get to the town, with their tunnel vision for winning votes, before the upcoming by-election.”
Set in the town’s cafe/restaurant, we meet a collection of townsfolk, a TV journalist, and two candidates who waltz in and try to schmooze their way to votes.
This is not the first play to point out the credibility gap between politicians and members of the electorate but aside from some very funny lines, the fact that the townsfolk were being played by actors with disabilities added a deep dose of gravitas to the situation, amplifying the sense that vulnerable people were being preyed upon.
It was a coherent performance by the cast but special note should be made regarding Anndi Kershaw’s work as three different townsfolk being interviewed on camera, and Jeshua Paterson for his convincing monologue in which he launches a tirade against the politicians.
Commedia dell’Arte is an old style of Italian comedic theatre, dating back to the 1500s. There are some set pieces and protocols in this style of theatre and, for this reason, this will potentially be the more challenging piece to understand in Amplify.
But be that as it may, helpful notes in the program from director, Corinna Di Niro, will help contemporary audience members decode the actions playing out before them. Of particular note is the fact that this performance focusses on two specific archetypes, the servants and the captains.
The play starts with a gaggle of noisy servants in a variety of masks and poses, something known as the “Zanni Sleep Machine” (a 16th Century invention by the Italian troupes that shows servants sleeping in all sorts of positions and making a range of noises; its repetition at the end signals the fact that we have watched the action from one day).
Our focus is primarily drawn to the “captains”; La Signora Rachel (Rachael Leahcar) and her aristocratic friend Signorita Justine (Justine Van Eysenck). With aloofness these actors signalled for the attention of the servants, demanded quietness as needed, and contemplated their own concerns unaware of the mischief their servants are getting up to. They really created their own bubble of privilege with their stage business and with the simple direction of having them wander from one place to another, while their servants were occupied with more practical activities like slopping out the toilets.
Overall, Amplify is an interesting program. While its opening two pieces were bold choices for content, Commedia Chaos! was a bold choice for form. A solid, grassroots contribution to Adelaide Fringe culture.