These days, the term 'neighbourhood watch' is more likely to evoke an Orwellian state than a sense of community. Lally Katz is well aware of this, and opens her new play with a few lines about Kevin '07, recalling a more hopeful time in recent Australian history when a widespread sense of discontent and disillusion was nonetheless familiar to many.
Directed by Belvoir's resident director, Simon Stone, this sharp suburban drama is all about how people reflect and deflect the behaviour of others in the most unexpected ways. On sleepy Mary Street, recycling bins are hastily wheeled to the kerb, taking residents only a safe heel-spin away from the sanctuary of their own homes. An elderly Serbian migrant, Milova (Kris McQuade), who attempts to visit the unreceptive Ana (Robyn Nevin) for coffee, elicits immediate sympathy when she is regularly dismissed as a spy. The huge mortgage of distrust that defines contemporary Western society is identified in Ana's insistence that she is “busy, always busy”.
Ana is a flinty-eyed Hungarian immigrant who has survived World War II and outlived two husbands. Katz wrote the role specifically for Nevin. Inspired by a feisty Hungarian neighbour of her own, she developed Neighbourhood Watch under Nevin's fierce instructions to create a role that was "tough and funny". Ana lives all alone, save for her fearsome watch dog, Bella, who is, significantly, heard but never seen. The ageing migrant forms an unlikely friendship with the somewhat flaky young Catherine (Megan Holloway), an anxious aspiring actress who needs distraction from her own internalised monologue just as much as Ana needs an audience for hers. Both women have hard life lessons to learn one about the pitfalls of trusting too much; the other about the penalties of trusting too little.
The set is innovative and imaginative: Slate-grey carpet climbs up the walls; the only fixed item is the piano upon which Stefan Gregory plays his score. Stone uses a fast-turning revolving stage to spin the audience back in time and to take Catherine imaginatively back through Budapest. The turntable effect also reflects how different characters' paths both cross and fail to cross.
The need for real community and friendships is challenging material to explore, and overall Neighbourhood Watch meets the challenge, showing how connecting with others may enable us to move forward in our own lives.