Before you even get to the doors of the Space Theatre, the apparently sleeping man, wrapped in a quilt on the floor like a dropped burrito, tells you you’re not in Kansas anymore. You’re definitely in Oz(Asia).
Once you actually reach the performance space for The Streets, the transportation is complete; you’re standing on a busy Indonesian street, navigating your way through makeshift shacks and people trying to hand you Coca-Cola or sell you shoes. After a few minutes of exploring your new environment, you’re invited to take a seat on the floor and watch the action. The Streets is chaotic – a mix of fragmented narratives, traditional Indonesian music and dance, modern dance, pop music, and even some interesting attempts at rap. Although the spoken word and musical lyrics are almost exclusively in Indonesian, subtitles help the English speakers follow along.
With the Teater Garasi’s background in student activism and political protests, it’s unsurprising that The Streets explores some heavy political issues that have faced Indonesia over the past twenty years. From race riots and food shortages to oppressive government and police behaviour, the streets in Indonesia have some stories to tell and the performers are determined to tell them. However, it’s not all doom and gloom; The Streets also explores the joys of public space – the impromptu games, the constant noise and music, and the celebration.
Much like a real city street, there is no way to predict what will come next and, sometimes, no obvious interpretation for what you’re watching. Even if you did your research beforehand, parts of The Streets are guaranteed to sail over your head, whether that’s because of cultural differences or just complex symbolism. After a few of these experiences, the audience stops analysing and just absorbs the experience, which is probably what Teater Garasi wanted all along.
In an attempt to make the street a living, breathing, changing organism, there are some tricky set changes that require the Stage Manager to come out, make an announcement, rearrange the masses seated on the floor, and spend a good few minutes moving large props and backdrops. It’s clear that Teater Garasi are aiming for transparency and a lack of pretension, it does break the spell a little – on a real street there’s no time for set changes – and it feels like a similar effect could have been achieved with less interruption.
The performers are all thoroughly committed and well-rehearsed and, even though much of the movement errs on the side of physical theatre rather than dance, there’s enough dance and music in the production to show you that the performers are technicians as well as artists. The performances are more strange and affecting than pretty and elegant, but you get a little bit of both.
The Streets is challenging, exciting, experimental theatre, and an excellent example of the younger, edgier OzAsia. It’s not always easy to follow and it’s definitely a little chaotic, but would it accurately represent a hectic, urban thoroughfare if it wasn’t? The Streets certainly isn’t a walk in the park, but it’s worth the risk; step out of the park and onto the street.
*Paige Mulholland is a volunteer at the Adelaide Festival Centre.