This verbatim theatre piece explores the misadventures and discoveries made by young adults backpacking overseas.
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Verbatim theatre – the technique of recording and editing interviews and transcribing these directly into a script – is generally used to convey some newsworthy story such as a natural disaster, a dramatic personal tragedy or politically significant event. In his play Transit (part of the Midsumma festival), creator Troy Nankervis has chosen the form to explore a much less loaded topic: the misadventures and discoveries made by young adults while backpacking overseas.  


Nankervis has interviewed 12 people from all over the world and compressed them into three Australian characters: extroverted teenager Tyler (Ewan Whittle), quiet best friend Nicole (Ella Di Marco), and laconic Kieran (Ezel Doruk). For the entirety of the play they swap stories in a London backpacking hostel, occasionally acting out each others’ anecdotes or addressing the audience directly. These scenes are interspersed with voice-over quotes from the interviewees themselves.  


Unfortunately their travel tales and observations are rather shallow and banal: French people refusing to speak English, English people’s social aloofness. It might have been more interesting if Nankervis had given his characters a range of nationalities, so we could have seen cultural clichés from a different perspective than our own.


Similarly, stories of buying train tickets without a common language, getting drunk and making out at a party or getting stoned in Amsterdam provide no real sense of the places these young people have visited, nor any personal development they’ve experienced as a result. Perhaps Nankervis needed to interview a wider range of people to garner more diverse stories and original insights.


The play only gathers momentum when Kieran and Tyler start opening up about the emotional side of their sexual/romantic experiences abroad. This shift in emphasis exposes a fundamental lack of focus within the work: it purports to be about travel but instead ends up mostly exploring young love, specifically young gay male love. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if Nicole’s character wasn’t so shockingly undeveloped, with her monologues largely focussing on her perceptions of Tyler.


 Another problem is that Transit struggles with its documentary roots. Stuck with other peoples’ words, the characters are unable to genuinely interact, and this lack of conflict and dramatic arc creates a visible strain in the actors’ performances. Ewan Whittle manages best, helped along by having all the funniest lines. His Tyler is an appealing creation – brash and spoiled (his parents fund his travels), but also charismatic, spontaneous and vulnerable. His unexpectedly tender rendition of a short-lived but intense dalliance with a young man in Egypt is the show’s highlight.       


Ezel Doruk seems uncomfortable as Kieran, stumbling over several lines and jumping in early with others (possibly he was rattled by the noisy late arrival of some audience members). Ella Di Marco as Nicole is fine – it feels unfair to judge her performance when the script gives her so little to work with.


For all its faults, the play is mildly entertaining. A lot of unintentional comedy is provided by the extreme Gen-Y-speak (‘I was having to ask him, ‘What’s this and what’s that?’ and he’d say, ‘It’s this,’ and I was like, ‘Oh.’’)


The work might have benefited from a wider cast of characters. It would certainly have been stronger if Nankervis had used his interviews as a springboard for inspiration, rather than incorporating them directly into the script. The verbatim technique doesn’t work with this material, and as a result Transit never really goes anywhere.


Rating: 2 ½ stars out of 5



Director: Cameron Stewart

Writer and producer: Troy Nankervis

Lighting Design: Siobhain Geaney

Sound Design and Composition: Lore Burns
Tech and Operator: Kate Kelly

Videography: James Terry

Photography: Jaklene Vukasinovic

Transcription: Robert Thomson

Starring: Ewan Whittle, Ella Di Marco and Ezel Doruk


Gasworks Arts Park, Albert Park

23 January – 1 February


Midsumma Festival

13 January – 3 February

Mileta Rien
About the Author
Fiction writer and freelance journalist Mileta Rien studied Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT. Her work has won prizes and been published in The Age, The Big Issue, and numerous anthologies. Mileta teaches creative writing at SPAN Community House, is writing a book of linked short stories, and blogs at