The Chat begins with Arthur Bolkas telling the audience that at the end of this performance they will be judging him and deciding his fate. It’s an interesting introduction to a show, leading the viewers to be on high alert from the beginning, carefully analysing the behaviour that Bolkas exhibits. We as the audience will ultimately determine whether this individual will be granted parole to re-join the community.
Former parole officer J R Brennan has created a fascinating insight to the parole system using a mix of actors and ex-cons as the performers for the evening. Personalities shine through crimes, contributing immensely to what is occasionally a hard to understand performance. Co-creator and actor David Woods is a clear standout of the night, his impersonation of an ex-con going through the motions of parole and what exactly to do afterwards is raw and emotional, a heartfelt depiction of the struggle that many offenders find themselves falling into.
There are moments throughout The Chat that seem random and out of place. The performers movements have a vague sense of familiarity and seem to be mimicking the events that happen within prison – however any intended irony or dark satire is lost and it was easy to notice numerous audience members with looks of confusion. For a performance that advertised itself as a black –comedy, the comedy was utterly lacking, drowned out by the intensity of the writing and performance. Only a few short bursts of laughter broke through; seemingly at moments that weren’t meant to incite any humour.
The Chat was seemingly intended to draw viewers into the world of an ex-con and have them reach an understanding about the difficulties they face when attempting to reach parole and reintegrate within society. This was demonstrated by the decision at the end to have audience members speak out on Arthur Bolkas’s choices and the conditions that should be allocated to him if his parole is granted. By the end of the night however, with no indication of what crime Bolkas had committed, the audience seemed overly eager to grant another chance based upon his performance.
The Chat can be seen at Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall from 27th July – 31 July. Tickets can be purchased here.