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BUSTOWN
by Lachlan Philpott

Perspective by Karen

Bustown + Desiree Din & the Red Forest

The action of the play is set in bustown – an isolated community - though it offers no certainty about where bustown exists in time and space. The bustown folk are ‘filthy victims of the sun’. Surrounding their little world is the mythical, mysterious ‘Otherness’. It is there that they want to be and where we see glimpses of the driver who left, and whose return they await and rehearse for. Bustown was developed into a one-act play for the Young Artists Program for the Australian Theatre for Young People (atyp), and this updated, published version offers a gift of an opportunity for young actors, and those working with them. In performance, there are 12 (or more) male and female roles which offer the opportunity to create a vivid world, described in the introduction as "immediately engaging – a colourful, hyper-real oasis in the middle of a hot, dry, dusty, endless plain where eccentric characters live with creativity and inventiveness but without technology."

These young characters are superbly drawn – naive, a little savage, curious and scheming about escape to the Otherness and ways they might outwit the wrinklies’ demands - "this happen again – seatbelts, seatbelts for both of yez every night for a week". This play allows for flexibility of interpretation in staging and design, yet its themes are clear and contemporary. The young people are desperate to leave bustown. This provides strong resonance in exploration of the effect on a community when its vibrant, young people all yearn to be elsewhere. The residents communicate in a kind of grubby Pidgin English, developed by the playwright to capture the uniqueness and isolation of bustown. Be prepared for the possibility that young actors will baulk initially at this ‘as they would Shakespeare’, before reaping the rewards of its ‘beautiful rhythm and flow’.

The visual qualities to be evoked through both the dialogue and set design offer challenge to create a whole world – a circle of buses, a faded circus tent, car parts and swinging tyres, a garden, and stuffed ponies and teddies from unwon sideshow prizes, abandoned in panic by a circus in the time when they heard about what happened in the cities. "Maybe no people left there now, we be lucky here in bustown". Swinging above the action, and offering their commentary like a knowing Greek chorus, are the punkbirds who fly into Otherness, but no one in bustown knows what they see.

The play is a joy in sound and imagery – interest is provided through the mastery of the inhabitants’ evolved language, but also in the poetic dialogue of the driver,– "Out here even shadows lay dead, shrivelled on the ground", and snatches of sounds remembered by the characters – the greensleeves memory of mrwhippyvan’. The residents assemble for the ceremony of ‘remembering’ – a communion of voices of words to be practised and kept alive for the sake of having a history. They chant amusing alphabetical lists: iconic symbols of what was left behind in the Otherness – sportsgirl sprayandwipe swineflubreakout specialk terrosistcell twitter typepad textmessage thailand titanic – but for many of them, they are just words.

Like Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot, the characters wait. They wait for the day when the driver returns ‘cause driver will come, driver must come, cushion on the driver’s seat, ready for the driver’. It is Sylvia, the matriarch of Bustown, who articulates what they have lost though their existence in bustown, what they have left behind; "not stuff we felt was important before it went wrong". The play touches on other themes; civic duty, status and freedom, and importantly, the belief that contentment is to be found elsewhere. Its structure reflects the absurdity of the repetitive, cyclic nature of their existence, of the ‘turning of the wheel’. Yet it is uplifting and funny, not depressing, and ultimately full of hope for the young generation from bustown who head off by play’s end into the Otherness.

Bustown is published by Playlab with Desiree Din and the Red Forest by Maxine Mellor.


Perspective first published with the Book Nook | August 2012 Newsletter

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