Written by Alana Valentine, Co-directed by Hannah Goodwin and Eamon Flack
Review by Charlotte Smee
One of the plays in Belvoir’s very first repertory season, Wayside Bride is Alana Valentine’s latest research project turned heartfelt tear-jerker. Telling select stories of the many, many couples married by minister Ted Noff during the 1970s at the Wayside Chapel, King’s Cross, this play explores what it means to be radical in your care for other people. The play follows Ted and his wife’s struggle with Ted’s charges of heresy by the Methodist church, while at the same time interrogating Valentine’s perspective and her connection to Wayside through her mother.
For the theatrically inexperienced, this is not just one fictional story that becomes a performance. Alana Valentine is a playwright and self-described “listener” that uses feminist research techniques like interviewing, making herself present in the work, and working closely with those whose stories she uses to create works of verbatim theatre (theatre that uses words and text from documentary sources with little to no alteration).
In Wayside Bride, Emily Goddard plays an earnest and endearing Alana Valentine interviewing and embodying her mother, Janice (Sacha Horler), to then time travel and collect stories of the Wayside Chapel during 70s and 80s.
If you, like me, find it hard to believe that there are people in the world who would leave someone behind and do nothing about it, then this show is for you. An exquisite study in the act of listening and the power of story.
Alana, the character, is always present, wearing the dress her mother made for her pre-wedding chat with Ted Noff. She serves as a great reminder that these are only some of the stories she heard, and all of them are very, very real. It also gives a touch of magical realism that allows unreal things like a conversation between Valentine and the long-dead Noff, a drag-queen scene change or two and a chocolate-wheel style theology bingo to keep things interesting.
Brandon McClelland as Ted Noff brings a deft touch, taking us from punching the wall in frustration to an always accepting and welcoming presence for those on the fringes of Sydney society. Mrs Margaret Noff, also played by Sacha Horler, is magnificently loud, angry and devoted to her husband and the cause. Horler draws depth and vulnerability from McClelland, and their chemistry is expertly created with direction by Eamon Flack and Hannah Goodwin.
Highlights from the ensemble were the dapper, strange, caring, and charming Marco Chiappi as a helpful queen among other roles, and Angeline Penrith as one of the brash, funny and vulnerable brides, Justine. Penrith’s grief when she found out her daughter had been taken away was absolutely heart-wrenching. Maggie Blinco first as a rambling mad woman and then as a grandmother who married a Vietnamese-Australian brought very tender moments, particularly when played alongside McClelland.
Set design by Michael Hankin included a jukebox, various shades of blue plastic chairs, hot water urn and cinema-like sign declaring, “Welcome”. A white circle in the centre of the stage, not unlike a community basketball court, became an area of focus that the characters stepped into when it was their turn to speak – a simple but effective device. Costume by Ella Butler transported us right back to the 70s and 80s, with Noff dressed in a light blue safari suit and sex workers sporting glittery tights and blonde wigs.
The challenge with working with interviews and real people is that their stories are notoriously difficult to edit. Once you become so close to the people and their memories, it can be difficult to translate that to an audience who hasn’t heard a thing about them before. This became a slight problem with name-drops of Noff’s connections at the time and some jokes that felt dated.
Valentine’s expertise in verbatim theatre is clear in this tender, raw portrait of life at the fringes of Sydney. Like Ted Noff, I am a “great smiler, a great laugher, a big cryer…” and there was more than one moment that I smiled, laughed, and cried in this play. The work is the result of years of interviewing and effort that has become a beautiful snapshot of humanity. If you, like me, find it hard to believe that there are people in the world who would leave someone behind and do nothing about it, then this show is for you. An exquisite study in the act of listening and the power of story.
Photos by Brett Boardman.
(Wayside Bride only)
(Wayside Bride only)
Costume Designer Ella Butler
Set Designer Michael Hankin
Sound Designer & Composer
Choreographer Elle Evangelista
Fight Director Nigel Poulton
Vocal Coach Danielle Roffe
Costume Design Associate
Set Design Associate
Belinda Crawford and
Special Effects Engineer
Andrew Cameron Fellow
Assistant Stage Managers
Amelia Grindrod and
(Light Shining only)