Banned is a thought-provoking one hour show about two mothers – white Australian and Indigenous Australian – trying to find a resolution to a banning decision following an incident at a footy game. The show fluctuates between quiet physical humour and moments of high emotion where it feels like the entire audience is holding their breath. It speaks about race, class, intimate partner violence, and the nature of reconciliation. Playwright Barbara Hostalek makes efforts to ensure that those watching walk away with a greater appreciation of the importance of empathy, and the role it plays in our day to day life.
Holly Jones plays Jane Smith, a high-strung woman who is out for blood. Jones’s performance is extremely realistic – I’ve definitely met this exact woman before multiple times. You know, the kind of woman who asks to see the manager in cafes and restaurants. Her physicality, control over emotion, and use of space perfectly allows the audience to paint a picture of this woman in her day to day life. This is a difficult feat because Banned only has one hour to establish characters, their backstories, and the plot.
The knockout performance is that of Della Rae Morrison in the role of Meeka who is not only outspoken and emotionally mature in ways that Jane isn’t, but also not a stereotype. This is made possible because the play is written by an Indigenous woman – the empathy and lived experiences required to write an Indigenous character in a three-dimensional and authentic way is immediately apparent. Meeka is real. She is a mother. A person who made a mistake. A person who loves her son. It’s difficult not to empathise with her, especially when she is such a stark contrast to Jane.
The superb acting and comic timing of Jones, Morrison and Kingsley Judd in the role of their mediator, is only amplified by the set design and lighting. The use of a small space allows the characters to feel caged in, not only forced to deal with the reality of their situation because of the plot but also by the physicality of the space. There’s no real way to escape from it, although they do try multiple times. It also allows for great physical comedy as the competitiveness of the two main leads vie for the best seats, the best place to keep their handbags, and the best light in which to present their side of the argument. The lighting in particular is an interesting artistic choice as it is an intriguing way to break tension, and return the characters to a neutral state.
And as for the ending? Well let’s just say that sometimes the things that are unsaid hold far more value than those that are spoken out loud. And that there is value in honesty and reaching out. Go watch Banned at the Blue Room Theatre this NAIDOC Week. You will not regret it.
Tickets for Banned can be purchased at the Blue Room Theatre website. The play runs until 14 July for one hour at 7pm
Ishita Mathur | @ishitamathur7