Performance review: POV, Belvoir St Theatre

Two child actors and 36 unrehearsed adult actors participate in an engrossing mash-up of stage and screen techniques. 
Right side profile of teenage girl who's reading a script. She's facing a camera. A projected image of a man and a woman is presented on a screen above on the left hand side.

There’s film, there’s theatre and then there are works like POV, the re:group performance collective’s latest effort, currently playing downstairs at Belvoir St Theatre.

Blurring the lines between stage and screen, POV is a drama with strong comedic elements that deals with themes of family and mental illness. It’s part of Belvoir St’s 25A program, where the task is to make a show for less than $2500.

POV is an unusual work in several ways. Apart from melding elements of theatre and cinema and the $2500 challenge, the cast of three changes each night. 

The character of Bub, an 11-year-old who’s obsessed with documentary filmmaking, is played by either Mabelle Rose or Edie Whitehead, depending on the night (it was Whitehead, who is actually 13, at the performance ArtsHub attended). 

Meanwhile, her two parents are played by a whopping 36 actors over the run (Nicholas Brown and Grace Rouvray when ArtsHub was present). Both adult actors are entirely unrehearsed, taking their cues from the child actor, who feeds them lines and gives them directions throughout the show. 

Supplementing the lines fed by Bub are scripts hidden within the set, displayed on screens or delivered to the actors via earpieces.

The overall effect is something akin to a wild improv session (a seamless, very professional improv session). The pace is lightning fast, with the audience constantly finding itself on one side of the fourth wall, then the other, and back again.

Within this context, POV explores the impact of mental illness upon a small, tight-knit family. Bub, who’s making a video documentary with a camera gifted by her father, is the story’s protagonist. Her life and family are the subjects of said documentary, at a time when her mother is preparing to enter work in an upcoming ceramics exhibition.

But the exhibition takes a back seat to more pressing concerns – the mother’s increasingly erratic behaviour and descent into a period of mental illness, all of which ends up on film.

While the premise may sound depressing, there’s a lot of hope in POV with the play depicting how understanding, love and patience can blunt the hard edges of a mental health crisis for all concerned. 

More than anyone, it’s the character of Bub who shows the way, with one of POV’s overarching themes being that children can cope (and even thrive) when exposed to difficult truths, and that attempting to shield them from such truths can be more damaging than helpful. 

Overall, there’s much to recommend in POV, which holds viewer interest both through its story and its melange of stage and screen techniques, with the action on stage played on several monitors around the theatre. 

Read: Theatre review: The Gospel According to Paul, Sydney Opera House

The hybrid set-up also lends itself to clever multipurposing – for example, the camera’s dolly track does double duty, serving as railway tracks at points where Bub lies on the tracks (her favourite place to think) to process the goings-on. 

In the end, it’s the actors’ performances that resonate most: 13-year-old Edie Whitehead is gifted and mature beyond her years; Brown and Rouvray excel as her parents, especially considering the unrehearsed, on-the-fly nature of the roles. 

re:group performance collective
Director/Video Designer: Solomon Thomas

Text: Mark Rogers

Creative Team: Mark Rogers, Solomon Thomas, Malcolm Whittaker,
Steve Wilson-Alexander, Carly Young

Composer: Ashley Bundang

Stage Manager/Operator: Cris Chavez

Production Assistant: Daniel Evans

Creative Producer: Malcolm Whittaker

Administration: Intimate Spectacle

Performers: Edie Whitehead, Mabelle Rose

Guest Performers: Violette Ayad, Danny Ball, Nicholas Brown, Tom Conroy,
Michael Cullen, Gareth Davies, Chloé Déchery, Eden Falk, Eamon Flack, Charlie Garber, Janie Gibson, Harriet Gillies, Benedict Hardie, Lucy Heffernan, Nikki Heywood, Michael Ho, Shelly Lauman, Ewen Leslie, Rose Maher, Rebecca Massey, Harry McGee, Katia Molino, Zindzi Okenyo, Tony Osborne, Ella Prince, Duncan Ragg, Rose Riley, Julia Robertson, Grace Rouvray, Charlotte Salusinszky, Jack Scott, Yael Stone, Vaishnavi Suryaprakash, Simon Vaughan, Tim Walker

Tickets: $20-$25

POV will be performed until 16 June 2024 at Belvoir St Theatre, Surry Hills 

Peter Hackney is an Australian-Montenegrin writer and editor who lives on Dharug and Gundungurra land in Western Sydney - home to one of Australia’s most diverse and dynamic arts scenes. He has a penchant for Australian theatre but is a lover of the arts in all its forms. A keen ‘Indonesianist’, Peter is a frequent traveller to our northern neighbour and an advanced student of Bahasa Indonesia. Muck Rack: