Like a bizarre but, effective example of social anthropology or some deconstructed dessert ordered in a fancy restaurant, this is Unknown Neighbours, a joyously experimental work that pulls the audience out of the theatre and places them in the homes of strangers, where the real and the imagined narratives of those which inhabit these places are played out and made true.
The performance begins at an undisclosed address where we are greeted by an emphatic performer who leads us through beautiful and lush gardens, and then into a private residence, of which, we are told, belongs to a film producer. Through a mix of projected and spoken word, we are slowly introduced. Not only does the work bridge the divides between the traditional and non traditional binaries of theatre, it presents a partnership between the Melbourne collective Ranters Theatre, and Creative VaQi who herald from Korea: though the cultural differences are not once explicitly drawn upon, this remains as some lingering undertone, as much as we are strangers in this place, so are half of the creative team strangers, to Melbourne.
As we are lead room from room it becomes apparent that no space is off limits, soon we are in the bedroom of this unknown person: it’s a weird and almost perverse sensation, as if we are trespassing but with permission to do so. There is humor here and moments of song that are joyous and warming. We then from this house meander through the back streets of St Kilda, where each of these audience groups that too have been given the chance to explore unknown terrain, converge in an open space. The sound of wind chimes is introduced here as something then repeated and able to provide continuity to the experience as a whole. In this moment of near bewilderment the boundaries are removed, and these unknown people are, at once, whole, bought together by performance and by art.
The tour completes back in the known confines of Theatre Works where in layered voice and projected text; just enough of the personal story is finally painted in. As a nice touch, video footage which flies over St Kilda rooftops, drawing down and focusing in on each performer responding to their surrounds finishes the experience, projected in large scale, across the back wall of the theatre, the space here bereft of anything but white lights, a tent, and the tinkering of wind chimes.