Katie McAllister takes her famous friends on a road trip to Albany that is both hilarious and illuminating, writes David Zampatti.
Watch and Act, Katie McAllister ·
Blue Room Theatre, 13 October 2021 ·
We’ve all done the long haul down the Albany Highway to the spectacular Great Southern. We’ve stopped at the Woolshed in Williams and the Black Cockatoo Café in Koji. On the South-West Highway out of Denmark and up from Walpole we’ve seen the hellish landscapes left by the bushfires that rip through the trees.
Katie McAllister has seen them all, but through a different prism than most, and the result is a warm, brave, immensely funny and memorable performance.
It’s also one that made me glad I didn’t read the program before I saw it – and I’ll avoid telling you why in this review.
Katie is from Denmark, mid-twenties, a former broadcaster of Watch and Act notices on rural ABC stations, those ubiquitous bushfire seasons warnings for us to avoid roads, leave now or prepare to defend your property and yourself.
They offer a calm voice in the face of an existential threat, and that’s exactly what this Watch and Act is. For Katie, for all of us, that threat is climate change, and I doubt I’ve ever had its danger exposed with such a combination of grace and conviction.
Because to understand something so enormous as what is happening to our climate, you sometimes need to see it in microcosm to be able to grasp it.
(Perhaps – I’m putting this very politely here – that’s why it’s harder for politicians to see what every farmer understands from day to day experience in their paddocks, their crops, their livestock and their dams. Things can’t go on like this.)
The art form McAllister uses for this performance is stand-up comedy, and I’d happily sit in a basement club to see it. She’s got an insinuating humour, a terrific comic imagination and very nifty chops. There’s plenty to laugh out loud to – a little poem called “Fucking (adjective not verb) Tim Winton” is a screech – and lots more to quietly chuckle at.
The tour de force – and the key to her response to life – is a trip she makes down to Albany with her very best friends. There’s Anna Scott, Julia Roberts’ character in Notting Hill (you hear a LOT about Notting Hill in the show), there’s New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, there’s climate activist and diplomat Christiana Figueres and, most of all, there’s her muse and mentor Nigella Lawson.
It’s a trip you won’t forget in a hurry for its comic audacity, and, at the same time, the cunning way it teases out Katie’s concerns about herself and her world.
It also benefits from the unobtrusive control of director Michelle Endersbee and Georgina Cramond’s finely crafted sound design. Clare Testoni’s work is a gift to every production she works on, and her design of Karri trees and the memories that weave amongst them is a very special one.
I’ve had it put to me more than once that McAllister’s performance in Watch and Act was reminiscent of Hannah Gadsby’s. The comparison does neither of them justice, really, but the point is taken.
Perth’s alternative theatre, and The Blue Room in particular, is enjoying a purple patch recently, but nothing we’ve seen has been better than the luminous, illuminating Watch and Act. I’m sorry I was only able to see it late in its run and that this review comes after it is over.
I sincerely hope it gets another soon, and that you get to see it then.
(If you do, though, don’t read the program until afterwards.)
Pictured top: Katie McAllister. Photo: Sophie Minissale
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