Trash Goes Down The RiverLeft – Clare Tarman

You know when you accept an invitation way ahead of time because it seems like a good idea, but then on the (chilly) night you find it's been a long day and you'd really rather just stay in and be cosy and warm, eat some pizza and watch a romcom – especially when the invitation is to a stage play about homelessness? And you know there are speeches involved and, you know, speeches... blergh. Every fibre of your being is begging you to just stay home and order pizza and watch that romcom, but you make the trek across town and you watch the play and you stay for the speeches and you meet some of the people involved with the play and you come away feeling inspired and enriched and you high-five yourself on having made the right decision... you know that feeling? That was me last night after seeing Trash Goes Down The River.

If you really have an aversion to speeches, don't worry – for the rest of the season you'll just get the play. But although the temptation was there to make a quick getaway as soon as the play closed, I was intrigued and stayed and enjoyed some very fine words from very different worlds, two speakers – one a highly successful CEO and board member of various high-end entities, the other a former homeless woman with an interesting life story to tell – sharing the common interest of the problem of homelessness. Inspiring. Enriching.

Although you won't get the speeches with the performance you'll see, you do get some very fine words from writer Clare Mendes, and some very fine acting from Emma Cox (Melody), Alec Gilbert (Melody's husband Rich) and Clare Tarman (Trash).

Rich is the Deputy Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Melody his over-achiever, upper class wife. Rich thinks cleaning up The World's Most Liveable City means installing more shiny new public toilets. Melody has grander plans and wants the city rid of its increasing homeless population. There is much discussion about the nature of the plight of the homeless and possible solutions, much discussion and argument about human nature, fortune, fate and destiny.

When Melody finally gets her way there is a re-enactment, of sorts, of real-life events that unfolded downtown at Melbourne's Flinders Street Station earlier this year when a community of rough sleepers was forcibly moved on with protests developing and scuffles breaking out. When Melody confronts Trash, something unexpected happens that changes the way Melody thinks.

When the play opens the two women are on a boat sailing down the Maribyrnong river. The audience doesn't know what is going on, and I'm not going to spoil things here. But the situation will pique your curiosity.

The story is told in a non-linear way, kind of in flash backs. This is intriguing, if at times a little confusing. The fault could have been with me, but Melody and Rich changed their attitudes and indeed their personalities considerably, and these changes were far from subtle, and with the explanations of these character developments done more or less in hindsight, they tended to be, for me, a little jarring and consequently a little unconvincing.

Not the least bit unconvincing, however, Was Clare Larman. Wow. She owned the part of Trash – especially given that she had the least dialogue of the trio. A very authentic performance; an inspired bit of casting.

If I've made it all sound a bit heavy, that's a mistake; I like to think it's a thought-provoking play rather than a heavy one. The playwright obviously cares a lot about this issue, and that comes through in the text. Homelessness is such a complex issue and many of the causes are touched upon – domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, gender issues, good and bad luck, compassion or lack thereof. Some sections felt so real that this sensitive Viking may have teared up a little.

There are laughs too. There is much parody of the slippery machinations of local council, various sectors of our first world society, social tribes, the importance of the correct placement of dining cutlery, June Dally Watkins... the list goes on. There really are some funny moments.

So... to pizza & romcom or not to pizza & romcom, this is the question.

I'd suggest checking out Trash while you can. Who knows – you might come away feeling inspired and enriched. You will most definitely see the homeless you usually look away from in a new, more compassionate light. 

Trash Goes Down The River
by Clare Mendes

Directed by Elizabeth Walley

Venue: Bluestone Church Arts Space | 8a Hyde Street, Footscray, VIC
Dates: 13 – 24 June 2017   
Tickets: $25 – $18.50


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