BY NICHOLAS HANSEN
Roslyn Oades’ latest work plays like an encyclopaedia of Australian attitudes to ageing.
Community hall gatherings can mark such a breadth of occasions, from a band, to a council meeting or a wake. These times, when staged in the neutrality of a hall, can set up a range of existential feelings.
Director Roslyn Oades brings her audio verbatim technique to life in this work with the young playing the old and vice versa. The mesh of audio recordings, edited from many hours of interviews with the young at parties and the aging in care, are re-voiced and rendered purposefully unreal. It may sound simple, but the actors must listen intently for their part, recorded amongst others, while inventing the accompanying nuanced gestures.
The actors wear headphones as prompters, conjuring up the concealed earpiece, worn by TV interviewers taking cues from backstage. But there is nothing concealed here about the headphone technology. On a few occasions the device is also used to remind the audience we are hearing something very different to the performers.
On the surface, Hello, Goodbye and Happy Birthday plays with many binaries, most obviously of the young and old. But Oades disrupts much of the naivety of the young, and the vulnerability brought by age. That Oades has focussed on ‘the bookends of life fully lived’ makes for rich documentary material. The elderly interviews were marked by a focus on the retrospective, often referring to the measure of their achievements. These ages can inspire confidence and certainty, but they are also where slippages occur, as one elder recounts when told about being placed in the home: ‘You must stay here, because you have so much to do.’ The actors snap between these scenarios, setting up a delightfully cubistic collision of points of view.
These un-selfconscious scenarios across race, age and class recreate intimate rituals, of storytelling and production of meaning. On a few occasions I felt like arguing with this assemblage of Australianisms. I wanted to interrogate why this mix of the mundane and the intimate fell at times into flatness. Perhaps the mundane could have been drilled harder at us. But with its sweet and sour moments this work was taut with purpose.
The sound design was unobtrusive, occasionally surreal, but never interfering. The set was impeccable: fluorescent strip lighting, beige curtains, balloons and the ubiquitous community noticeboard, detailed down to the ghostly markings
left by removed posters. Oades used the Malthouse’s Beckett Theatre resourcefully, doubling the theatre entrance for a hall entrance, situating the audience in the meetings, eavesdropping on a series of candid recordings. ‘Is that it? Are we done?’
Hello, Goodbye and Happy Birthday reflects back upon the audience a kaleidoscopic set of attitudes to age; to confound, amuse and delight.
Originally published on Arts Hub