Performance review: Overflow, Arts Centre Melbourne

A discomforting but illuminating exploration of the trans and gender-diverse experience.
overflow. A woman stands next to a basin in a graffitied club toilet. She is wearing a fishnet top and short black skirt and preening for the camera.

Entering a show showered with mass critical acclaim and having your expectations not only met but surpassed, is no small feat. Yet, Overflow, the one-woman production by internationally renowned writer Travis Alabanza and masterfully directed by award-winning director, creative producer and curator Dino Dimitriadis, achieved precisely that. 

In this electric production, we followed the interconnected monologues and experiences of Rosie, portrayed by Janet Anderson, who navigates the confinements of a bathroom stall, besieged by impending threats from the outside world. The play commenced with a tongue-in-cheek monologue about the “pre-emptive piss”, which cleverly served as the narrative thread for Rosie’s bathroom escapades.

While the focal point was public toilets, a site frequently subject to misinformed debates, it was the exploration of how those who are subject to spectacle and relentless scrutiny are forced to navigate life. 

Staged at the Fairfax Theatre in the Arts Centre, the set was well-fit, boxy and industrial, and paired with the thrust stage, strategically positioned the audience as active observers. This setting bolstered the play’s commentary of the unwanted gaze, creating an interesting (and brilliant) immediate discomfort. This discomfort promptly transformed as the production thoughtfully guided audiences through a gripping and well-oiled journey of bathroom beauty consultations, cigarettes and heart-to-hearts.

With poignant lines such as ‘I’m done waiting for you to save me’ and ‘it’s not about what’s on your passport, it’s about your energy’, Alabanza’s script is an airtight masterpiece of wit and sincerity, complemented by Anderson’s dynamic performance. Her on-stage ease and charm made it easy to forget that you were watching a play. Utilising every inch of the intimate space – owing to Dimitriadis’ dynamic direction – Anderson flicked seamlessly between roles with style and wit: former best friends, family members and devout principals. 

There was an undercurrent of horror in the introduction of the boogeyman, bass-heavy and foreboding soundscapes and leaky ceiling, which enhanced Rosie’s dread as she attempted to distract herself and build up the courage for the inevitable. Through this lens we were reminded just how vulnerable trans-femme and gender-diverse people are in these spaces.  

The lighting design by Benjamin Brockman was striking, with neon lights carving out the club dance floor and fluorescents exposing Rosie’s raw moments. Danni Esposito’s sound design thudded continuously, rising and falling in all of the right moments, adding to the rising tension. A climatic moment, featuring the symbolic “overflow” of water filling the bathroom sink, stood out as a testament to the meticulous coordination of all production elements. 

Read: A cubicle of one’s own

The show received a heart-felt and well-deserved standing ovation at its conclusion. And, honestly, Overflow deserved every bit of acclaim it received, not just for reaching “essential viewing” status, but for every bit of love and care that was poured into this work. You could feel it in the performance, the strength and passion of the script, and the feeling you took with you when it ended.

Overflow by Travis Alabanza
Arts Centre Melbourne
Director, Set Designer: Dino Dimitriadis

Assistant Director and Stage Manager: Steven Ljubovic
Rosie, Community Engagement Specialist: Janet Anderson
Voice and Dialect Coach: Adi Cabral
Lighting Designer: Benjamin Brockman
Sound Designer and Composer: Danni Esposito
Movement Director: Fetu Taku

Costume Designer and Community Engagement Specialist: Jamaica Moana
Community Engagement Specialists: Loz Foy, Tommy Misa, Ro Bright

Production Manager: Frankie Clarke
Touring and Community Engagement Producer: Green Door Theatre

Inclusion Consultant: Bayley Turner

Overflow was performed 31 January to 4 February 2024.

Nina Culley is a writer and horror enthusiast based in Naarm. She’s the Studio Manager and Director of Melbourne Young Writers' Studio where she also teaches creative writing. Her works have appeared in Kill Your Darlings, Aniko Press and Eureka Street.