by | May 6, 2024

By Karyn Hodgkinson

Seldom do I see a play and forget that I am watching a piece of theatre. Such is Sally McKenzie’s ability to pull us into her world. All the creative elements – acting, sound, music, lighting, video projection and direction come together in Way to create a truly immersive experience.

The subject of homelessness and older women is close to my heart. I have a female friend who, after getting to know her, I discovered that she was living in her car. Unlike many homeless people, she did not have a mental illness. She experienced a catastrophic accident at home that left her with acute nerve pain and a physical disability. After spending 3 months in hospital, she was left depleted financially. She remains one of the most resilient people I know.

Homelessness, however, does not have to be a subject of interest for you to be captivated by this piece. We often can’t comprehend how or why people end up in this state. Often homeless people are blamed for the circumstances they are in. However, with great sensitivity and craftsmanship, Sally McKenzie shows us just how and why a person can experience homelessness – and the reasons are many and various.

The 2016 Census revealed that women over 55 were the fastest growing cohort to experience homelessness in Australia. This number increased by 31% since the 2011 census. By the 2021 census, it grew a further 6.6%, with domestic violence being the single biggest cause amongst women in this age group.

Way involves the stories of 4 older women, over 55, who experience homelessness. The protagonist, Lyn, is a film maker trying to get her documentary about 3 such women funded, but she herself slips deeper and deeper into a financial miasma. The piece moves between the women’s stories, snippets of which we see as video projections, to McKenzie transforming into those women herself, continuing their stories in more detail. Lyn’s own journey shows us how her plight affects other family members. We see her age-old dependency on her mother, despite her mother’s increasing dementia. We also see her fraught relationship with her brother, Steven. Her memories of her now deceased father are painfully poignant as he was her great supporter and source of encouragement. We go from phone calls to projections to stage action and back again, building to a crescendo of desperation.

Congratulations to Sally McKenzie for a beautifully written and acted script. I was brought to tears – yet there was humour and hope in these stories. Graduating from NIDA in 1977, McKenzie has appeared in leading and ensemble roles for theatre companies across Australia, including Belvoir St Theatre, Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne Theatre Company, Queensland Theatre Company and the Sydney Theatre Company. Despite this, I would have liked more vocal energy from her, especially at the beginning when I had to listen hard to hear her. At times she seemed to be acting at a level more suitable to film.

The set is fittingly sparse, alluding to the plight of the women, and enabling seamless transitions from character to character. The quality video projections complement the action on stage. J. David Franzke must be applauded for his sound design which enhanced all. Music and sound worked together with the excellent lighting design by Giovanna Yate Gonzalez.

Bravo Sally McKenzie. Theatre is at its best when we can peer into someone’s life, see a little of ourselves, yet learn something of what it is to walk in another’s shoes. I encourage all to see this work – you won’t come out quite the same.

Image: Darren Gill

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