Review: Do You Know Me, Guerilla Fest (WA)

Promenade performance in Guerrilla Fest presents diverse experiences of homelessness in Perth.

Seeking authenticity, writer and producer Tiffany Barton interviewed homeless people in the margins around Perth’s daily commutes, domestic errands and social gatherings. Through six actors, Do You Know Me shares their voices with devastating immediacy, in a performance progressing through the streets and lanes of Northbridge.

Max, homeless support group volunteer and guide, waits in Yagan Square with a shopping trolley holding items for sleeping rough. Criss-crossing Roe Street, the audience meets Helen, who quietly enjoys her art despite her excessive generosity driving her to live in a tent in her middle age, Yindy who maintains his pride and connection to Country despite a lifetime of white prejudice and injustice, and a teenage girl who celebrates the liberation of living in a car, but picks through piled rubbish as the group leaves. Proud Shaun waits in an alleyway with his memories of the high life, urging understanding and compassion for the different reasons behind homelessness, and young Treya skips through a carpark but becomes too overwhelmed to talk. Max steps in to recount her harrowing background that drives her volunteering work in current happier times, but Olive interjects with her contrasting experience of indignity and untreated health problems in older age.

From a distance, a shuffling figure rants with threats of violence, and Max directs the group away from direct confrontation. Off James Street, former Army sniper Gary loses himself in traumatic memories, and David is a prison guard, grateful for unexpected security for an abused foster child who struggled into adulthood. Following a peripatetic poetry recital, the cast gathers to sing sweet harmonies of hope but shouts disrupt the bows and applause. As he denounces festival goers for their social tourism, the protester stumbles and falls. He is laid down in an alcove, covered with items from the shopping trolley, his body mere detritus while everyone passes by to the nearest bar.

The site-specific environment combines with intense delivery to share stories verbatim with discomforting directness. Responding to the nature of the script, performers ensure each character is a rounded individual with no shortcut stereotyping. Summer Williams consistently radiates Max’s innate pragmatic warmth, empathy and compassion in her interactions with audience members, and CJ Hampson delivers brittle bravado and mental and emotional struggles in differently damaged young women. Bruce Denny and Ian Bolgia each occupy their contrasting roles, their convincing performances blending male displays of strength with deep vulnerabilities. As more older women become homeless, Natalie Louise’s understated performance as Helen impresses with its muted desperation, and Declan Brown’s repeated threatening outbursts are so well-timed and ambiguous that audience members may mistake the meta-discussion of homelessness for real outrage from a local rough sleeper.

Director Phil Thomson develops the ideas and ideals of Barton and co-producer Aden Date to bind hard truths and personal voices with the skills of the committed and talented cast. Barton’s stories from local homeless people are a confronting selection of diverse challenges and representation of social groups. At its heart, Do You Know Me presents compassion without condescension, leaving audiences with the challenge to find and listen to stories for themselves.

4 stars out of 5 ★★★★

Do You Know Me
Presented by Epiphany Productions
Written and co-produced by Tiffany Barton
Director: Phil Thomson
Co-producer: Aden Date
Performed by Ian Bolgia, Bruce Denny, CJ Hampson, Natalie Louise, Summer Williams and Declan Brown
Northbridge, Perth
24 January – 2 February 2020
Tickets $20 – $30

Part of Guerilla Fest Perth 2020

Nerida Dickinson
About the Author
Nerida Dickinson is a writer with an interest in the arts. Previously based in Melbourne and Manchester, she is observing the growth of Perth's arts sector with interest.