As the name might suggest, Backyard Theatre Company presented two short works in Anywhere this year in one double bill – The Picnic and Saying Goodbye to Ally. Both were performed in the same space with the same set of actors, which seemed to be the only thing the shows really had in common, other than both of them being directed by Kristen Maloney (artistic director of the company). The former was written by Treymane Gordon and was a comment on patience and what that means in the modern world. The latter, written by Maloney, was about what women will give up for men and why they do it.
The first show was The Picnic, which was first shown at FAST last year. The show was somewhat voyeuristic last year, as audience members were seated at the picnic table with the actors and were right in amongst the action, although far from participants. However, at Toowong Bowls Club we were seated a safe distance away, although ponchos were still distributed (spoilers) when the inevitable food fight was to occur. In this performance the actors adopted an odd, stifled physicality with their arms out to the side like awkward little children pretending to be ballerinas. This, in combination with the somewhat melodramatic characterisation, seemed to be representative of the characters wearing masks to disguise the true self. However, my reading of this was somewhat hesitant and confused. The physicality was broken in moments, but it did not seem intentional and the actors would simply resume their physicalisation a moment later. Additionally, the performance used projected videos in place of monologues for the character’s revelations of their “real” selves. A sheet of paper was held up for the projection and I wondered if it was a comment on the moment’s fabrication, but still seemed confused to me as the projector worked fine on the wall behind it.
Overall, the Picnic was fun. The script is super funny and light and full of absurd characters almost all of which seem strange yet realistic. The commentary on patience in the modern world is obvious without being overly didactic. Characters seek impulse and freedom from fear, yet though they praise the one character who lives without a phone, seemingly from moment to moment, it is shown explicitly that even she is bound up in her own expectations and anxieties.
In contrast, Saying Goodbye to Ally was a more serious work, commenting on what women will give up for men. The show lived through the major narrative of titular Ally, whose witnessing of her parent’s destructive relationship ultimately led her down the path of her own bad relationship choices. As in The Picnic, the work used humour as a way to touch upon more serious themes – in this case, suicide (which Ally contemplates and attempts). However, the show found its strength in the moments when it let itself be serious such as in the exchanges between Ally and her mother through flashbacks of Ally as a child. The uncovering of this relationship felt the most genuine of the show.
However, it culminated in a strange climax. Towards the end of the show, Ally realises that her problems stem not only from herself but also from her ex-boyfriend, her father and her mother. The performance acknowledged that her mother was in a destructive relationship, but it suggested that her mother was somehow to blame for letting herself be trapped and thus set a bad example for her daughter. The message felt uncomfortable and seemed out of place through the rest of the show’s commentary.
Overall, however, both were entertaining performances. There was a lot of humour, a lot of fun and yes, a bit of cake (if you’re lucky!). Backyard Double Bill closes next weekend, so be sure to grab a ticket over at http://anywherefest.com/event/backyard-double-bill/all/ before they sell out!
This review is based off the reviewer’s experience on the 12th of May.
Full disclaimer: This reviewer is friends with the cast and creatives of this show.