In the opening moments of No Ball Games Allowed, two characters (Kristen Smyth and Mia Tuco) enter. Same in costume, they are separated only by the actresses’ age-gap, joining the stage together with their youthful and mature presence projecting convoluted prose.
This melodramatic entrance feels slightly risky, but opening scenes often demand attention before settling. But No Ball Games Allowed doesn’t settle. The production continues as an intensely delivered lengthy poem. Can the audience digest this luring but dense production, even with an open perspective?
In 2021, between lockdowns, many of the key creatives collaborating for No Ball Games Allowed produced The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven. The visceral production positioned itself within queer religious trauma with a healing quality.
In No Ball Games, Smyth, whose voice carries a controlled narratorial weight, returns to caress the dark depths of loss at the sake of identity on an increased sombre scale. Smyth, in both plays, reaches within, but in the current production, comes forth with a language less lucid.
Smyth’s script feeds on her memory banks for an entirely personal narrative reflective of, assumably, her strained childhood in London as a transgender child rejected by her mother. ‘Assumably’ because the dust of her memory feels almost indiscernible on the stage. But we follow this diary-like approach – searchingly.
A tonical composition and performance (by Robert Downie and Rachel Lewindon) playing throughout gives mood and flow to the dialogue. Simple but high-calibre visuals, like a constant rain drip centre stage, photographic projections and a hovering mirror reflecting all, infuse No Ball Games with a melancholic tone.
With these elements, the production moves between dream, psych and reminiscence. Tuco and Smyth’s lines, despite their restraints, vibrate with purpose and meaning.
But even if absorbed in this atmosphere, it’s not always possible to give way to the waxed lyrical. The loose plot emphasises character agony, but the writing relies on semantics reflexive to one person’s internal workings without universal language to meet the audience halfway.
The dialogues, always at climax without fluctuating dynamic, make themes of familial estrangement challenging to perceive. Notwithstanding their tricky personal poetics, this pace piles rather than resonates with intent, and the poignant words lose impact.
How much should we rely on the transition between intent and impact, though? For the willingness to investigate different means of expression, we hold onto patience to see and hear theatre off the margins, especially for work exploring the depths of emotional rifts. But, also, it is a pity to miss out on feeling.
No Ball Games Allowed scratches at the insides of our bodies, irresistibly, but without reaching the spot of sensitivity, as it leans away from us and, instead, fully into itself.
No Ball Games Allowed
Theatre Works, 14 Acland Street, St Kilda
Performance: Friday 1 April 2022
Season continues to 9 April 2022
Information and Bookings: www.theatreworks.org.au
Image: Mia Tuco and Kristen Smyth feature in No Ball Games Allowed – photo by Cameron Grant