Left – Miriam Margolyes. Cover – Eugenia Fragos, Miriam Margolyes and Eleanor Stankiewicz. Photos – Shane Reid
Neighbourhood Watch is a bittersweet triumph primarily because Miriam Margolyes fills the stage with a commanding, master-class performance. In her spellbinding portrayal of Ana, an indomitable and indefatigable, octogenarian, Hungarian refugee, the British actress is sublime. Even though the play, written by Lally Katz, and directed by Julian Meyrick, is first-rate on every level, it's Margolyes' sensational and highly nuanced presence that captures the imagination with a firm grip and never lets go even after curtain-fall.
The tale revolves around the improbable relationship between two women from dissimilar backgrounds and different generations. Catherine (Eleanor Stankiewicz), a youthful, wannabe actress, who's emotionally crippled and languishing because she is pining for her ex-boyfriend. One day, in the street her oddball elderly neighbour, Ana, beckons her over. In short time, the two form an unlikely friendship and Catherine learns invaluable life lessons as she is drawn into Ana's, bitter and often hilarious, stories of war, love, loss, refugee camps and her home just outside Budapest.
Their relationship is complex; Ana has a worldly-wise grasp on the harsher side of human nature and a general distrust of everything and everyone. Yet Catherine is naive, sweet and in many respects more of a conformist than her mentor. As the two women gradually reveal themselves their unadorned disclosures become both heartrending and meaningful.
All of the cast are solid. Stankiewicz is affable as Catherine and James Smith is appropriate as her diabetic, housemate Ken, who is addicted to World of Warcraft and besotted with his friend. Eugenia Fragos gives a judicious performance as Ana's former friend and neighbour, Milova. But it's the diminutive Margolyes' who stands head-and-shoulders above everyone else. Her performance is simply magnificent.
With so much presence on stage the set is kept to a few simple white rectangular boxes representing Mary Street in Sydney and the city of Budapest. The blank canvass is appropriate because it allows the artists plenty of space for a full range of expression.
Overall, Neighbourhood Watch is an amusing black comedy that also tugs the heart strings and remains with the audience long after the finale. The play has anger, compassion, sensitivity and much affection flowing like electrons around its core. Miriam Margolyes is its nucleus.
State Theatre Company of South Australia presents
by Lally Katz
Directed by Julian Meyrick
Venue: Dunstan Playhouse
Dates: 2 – 24 May, 2014
Tickets: $56.00 – $46.00