Melbourne Fringe: Heart Thy Neighbour

Heart Thy Neighbour might echo some of the casual racism displayed readily by Australians, but doesn’t have anything meaningful to say about it. The Fringe guide mention of Don’s Party sets up quite a misleading expectation, however, if you are a fan of enthusiastic and committed physical performances in the style of Kingswood Country, it this might appeal to your sense of humour.

Heart Thy Neighbour

On a Saturday morning in a suburban Melbourne backyard, Eliza thirstily drinks white wine while Doug prepares for a barbecue. Doug has invited new neighbour Fitzo and his cricket-watching mate-next- door Rossco, as well as Rossco’s wife Sarina – Eliza’s arch enemy – in an effort to be neighbourly. Tensions don’t get much of a chance to sizzle, as pretty quickly characters air their dissatisfactions,  there’s no “keeping up appearances” here.  Rossco’s comments on Sarina’s family earn him a very public slap before she storms back home, starting childish games between her and the revellers. From the slap to the hair pulling finale, the performance lacks in subtlety or insight into the motivations of the characters, and the comedy is limited  to a very broad, physical style.

As the writing didn’t give the characters much depth, I found myself desperately looking for something to think about. The most obvious trail is the inconsistencies in the dialogue or situation. Someone guzzling wine in the sun to the point of falling asleep should show some signs of intoxication on waking and continuing to drink, and the crowd noise should change when a wicket falls on the TV. And why was the chop cooked to perfection as a benchmark for the others left to keep cooking on the grill?

Eliza makes vague comments on Sarina and Rossco having sympathies for the Japanese because they’ve bought a hybrid car and use a Makita whipper-snipper, but we don’t know what motivates this disapproval, and it doesn’t go anywhere. It’s particularly quizzical given that the actor playing Sarina has a noticeable and exotic Albanian accent, which surely a serious xenophobe wouldn’t ignore. The major conflict between the women is jealousy over Sarina’s azaleas, yet Eliza seems disinterested in putting any effort into her own. Without any context, Eliza’s comments, generically disapproving as they are, are just throwaway phrases, holding no actual venom. Maybe if someone had asked Eliza what she thought of people arriving to Australia by boat we would have got some real meat at the barbecue.

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