Review: Backyard Double Bill

Backyard Double Bill: The Picnic by Tremayne Gordon and Saying Goodbye to Ally by Kristen Maloney
Presented by Backyard Theatre Collective
Directed by Kristen Maloney, starring Meghan Bowden, Tess Middleton, Gemma Elsom, George Goldfeder, Andrew Barnes and Tremayne Gordon
Shows @ 7, 19-21 May
Toowong Bowls Club, Corner of Gailey Rd and Heroes Ave

Review by Josh Lyons

As the name aptly suggests, this is two shows, linked in theme and performers, and separated by a half hour interval. Playing in an event room at the Toowong Bowls Club, and effectively utilising the space to intimately tell fascinating stories, this show is definitely well worth venturing out for.

Photo by Callum Pulsford

The Picnic is a near-absurdist piece, centering on four people who are awaiting the arrival of the 5th, Ash. It’s Ash’s birthday party and he’s very late, or not coming, but that’s not too important to their discoveries. There’s definitely some Waiting for Godot vibes going on here, and between themes, setting and style, I’d be willing to accept this as something of an homage to Beckett. The performance is characterised by a unique movement style, which is rigid, deliberate and choreographed. It certainly works for the show, and the actors excellently balance the movement requirements with their objectives, leading to a visually engaging piece which still pushes its performers for finding honesty within the framework.

Photo by Callum Pulsford

Saying Goodbye to Ally tackles the same directionless existentialism through the lense of Ally/Alison/Alice, who has decided to throw a party to celebrate her suicide, and, we learn, it isn’t the first time she’s done this. Though it will be the last. Bringing a darker approach to the themes than The Picnic, Ally comfortably tumbles through multiple time periods, tackling the issues of suicide and domestic abuse. It’s tinged with black comedy, which is magnificent, and relieves us somewhat of the otherwise extremely heavy content. Our titular character is marvellously played as a child by Bowden, as a young woman by Elsom, and somewhat older as Middleton. This casting allows for some beautiful staging, particularly on the oldest version of her reflecting on her own actions. It also allowed our actors to fully engage with the character at that point in her life, which was an extremely intelligent decision, and led to some of the best acting work I’ve seen in the Festival so far.

Photo by Callum Pulsford

I think Kristen Maloney’s input is the most impressive in rounding out the production. Directing both shows, and providing extremely unique experiences from each, is no mean feat, and the depth to which she challenged the performers was extraordinary. Additionally, her input brought us the design elements, which were simple, but extremely effective. The sound design was impeccable, and the music choices were exceptionally capable of expressing the tale, particularly for Saying Goodbye to Ally.

This is honestly one of the most impressive pieces of independant theatre that I have seen in my life. It’s engaging and honest, and the creatives behind it should be extremely proud of their magnificent work. I would most certainly urge other emerging artists to engage with this production and its team, it’s worth it.
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