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REVIEW: Outsiders (Melbourne Fringe Festival 2015)

REVIEW: Outsiders (Melbourne Fringe Festival 2015)

Spare a little change?

(Your luck might change)

As part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, Hobo Playhouse presents Outsiders, a social commentary on the homeless people of Melbourne’s streets, featuring brilliant young slam-poet Sam Hassel and the cast of the award winning comedy/drama Bums. Written by Robert Shaffron and directed by Jeff Jones, it is simultaneously poignant, funny and provocative as it breaks the typically un-breached fourth wall between ‘us and them’ that we know as normality.

The play is split into two parts – the first is focussed on Outsiders while the second half (after the interval) is focused on Bums.

Sam Hassel, co-curator of Pipe Up Poetry Slam and founder of Youngblood poets, opens the show with his unique style of poetry. You would be forgiven if you admitted to never having heard of slam poetry – it’s basically a form of acappella rap. Yes, this is a legit thing, there are legit competitions, and it’s mad kewl. As Sam puts it, slam poetry is all about the connection between audience and performer. This exhibition of expression has an organic and free flowing quality that is captivatingly easy to absorb, as he describes his impressions of youth, love and life with eloquence and honesty. If you have a penchant for poetry, lyricism or are even just curious, I would strongly suggest checking him out.

The one-act play Bums featured four unique characters that all share one thing in common – life on the streets. Evelyn – now Mary – ran away from home when she fell pregnant and is now writing the New Testament on the Herald Sun. Meanwhile, Vic is saving for a house in Frankston that he promised for his wife before she passed away, resorting to alcoholism to alleviate his grief. A sex-worker is constantly confronted with the vulnerability that his work exposes him to. An old man busks to ‘Dream Lover’ by Bobby Darin. These stories, while fictitious, hit close to home – not only are we forced to confront how actively detached we are from them, but also how easily these stories could become our own.

“I don’t know when I stopped living my life and life started living me”

Homelessness is something that we encounter on pretty much a daily basis. Whether or not we are aware of it is another question. Maybe you are among the oblivious. Maybe you do make the effort to extend that spare dollar to the awaiting takeaway coffee cup, or maybe you find yourself among the ignorant or wary who are more likely to go out of their way to avoid such conscience-confronting situations.

If you’re like me (a hybrid of the three types) you might not always donate the dollar, but can never walk away without a painful twinge of guilt. And maybe this exact guilt is why people living on our streets, such as the characters sketched out in Outsiders, are pushed to our moral periphery. As I once heard someone say, “we’re all just a heartbreak and a bag of ice away from homelessness”. It’s obviously a callous oversimplification of a complex problem, but it is resonant of a deep-seated anxiety that exists within us. As these people struggle on the edge of society, we struggle to ignore the disturbing proximity of that kind of life. As Vic says;

“We are a constant reminder of just how bad life can get.”

Recent increases in economic and social pressures in Victoria and a surge of other complex factors such as women fleeing domestic violence and the rising cost of housing vs. current welfare payments have resulted in record numbers of homeless people living on the streets of Melbourne. The figures are fairly horrifying. While most are in contact with charities, it’s not always enough to get them back on their feet.

This play was the kind of poignantly sad and yet humorous that incites a friction of guilty and empathetic emotions. You are left with the sense – the brutal, ugly and important truth – that this is a current reality for many people. The lack of catharsis achieved in the play is resonant of their very lives; the constant uncertainty of things that maybe we take for granted, like food, shelter, even love, safety and friendship. Sometimes, you need to look at yourself and what constitutes your life, in order to understand the plight of others. So, spare a little change, and (who knows?) your luck might change.

For more information about the play, check it out here.

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