Urban Theatre Projects is a company that has built a reputation over the years for creating edgy work, by and about the groups of society usually neglected by more traditional theatre companies. Artistic director Alicia Talbot has a particular interest in telling the everyday stories of these marginalised groups with a gritty, authentic aesthetic. The Last Highway is no exception – it’s a devised work directed by Talbot, set in the seedy world of Bankstown all-night service stations, kebab stands and prostitution.
Therefore, there is a strong emphasis on having the most authentic experience possible, to bring people into this world that wouldn’t otherwise see it. Take the location, for instance. The audience meets at Urban Theatre Projects’ Bankstown offices, in order to catch a bus to the venue. After a short trip, we arrive at a large hangar-type building in an industrial area, which is divided into the foyer area and the performance area. The set - life-size façades of a service station and a kebab stand - is already buzzing with fluorescent light, and the ‘station attendant’ is behind his counter.
This may seem an elaborate set-up to begin a theatre production, but the reasons soon become clear. Once we are seated, a parade of night-time characters begins – kebab stall owner, street sex workers, grotesque service station attendant and cab driver interact in both hilarious and disturbing ways. The performers (Suzannah Bayes-Morton, Kathy Cogill, Adam Hatzimanolis, George Kanaan, Yana Taylor, Rajan Thangavelu and Ahilan Ratnamohan), most of whom are also devisors, do an excellent job of portraying the tangled narratives of their characters.
The set is beautifully lit (by Mirabelle Wouters & Neil Simpson) from the ambient lights of the service station and kebab stand which, along with the use of several real cars, add to the piece’s verisimilitude. The narrative unfurls in real time, exploring the ways in which these “citizens of the night” pass the time until their shifts end. Sometimes they help each other, and sometimes they are downright awful to each other.
The audience is positioned at the fourth wall, voyeurs of this suburban wilderness and the creatures of the night that inhabit it. However, rather than being passive observers, we are drawn into feelings of empathy with the characters as they display their vulnerabilities. This setting seems at once familiar and alien, with a pervasive sense of danger and of teetering uneasily on the edge.
On the drive home, I notice service stations and kebab stands with renewed interest and awareness. The ‘last highway’ could be anywhere, on any of these arterial roads, carving through the concrete landscape. Not destinations, but thoroughfares.
Urban Theatre Projects’
THE LAST HIGHWAY
Venue: A service station in Bankstown
Rendezvous at UTP’s premises, 6-8 Old Town Plaza, Bankstown (opposite Bankstown Train Station) for transport to venue. Buses depart at 8:30pm, return by 10:50pm.
Dates/Times: January 15-19, 22-26 at 8:30pm
Duration: 1hr 15mins, plus travel time
Price: $40 / $30
Bookings: www.sydneyfestival.org.au or 13 2849
Information: www.sydneyfestival.org.au or www.urbantheatre.com.au