Review: UnHowsed

Tashmadada & Voices of the South Side present an experience far more pervasive than the stage

By Leeor Adar

A woman in St Kilda sings to herself alone whilst passerbys glance as they go on their way. Her only witness is the raining street. A life unsheltered by the world, for whatever reason, its woman against the world.

Director Deborah Leiser-Moore tells us that UnHOWsed is not a theatre work, despite the theatrical elements of the piece. The ensemble are women who have experienced homelessness in their lives, and the audience bears witness to their place in our world. They want to tell us that they are here.

The ensemble, Carla Mitterlehner, Susan V.M. McDonald-Timms, Jan Grey, Diann Pattison, Maurya Bourandanis, Catherine Samsury, Karen Corbett, Liza Dezfouli are all ordinary women who have come into extraordinary circumstances. The piece isn’t a misery-porn roller-coaster of tragedy, but rather a series of sung pieces and short monologues that are snippets, weaving together their experiences. There is an enormous amount of dignity in the way they carry themselves as women, not actors, living and breathing their truth.

Nela Trifkovic’s sound direction pervades the stage, creating a moody ambience that develops the narrative. The staging is also excellent. All the women sit within a low fence with their feet naked upon the sand. I am totally captivated as one dines with ceremony on a toy car, a symbol of finding normality in displacement and transience, and some take turns washing themselves on stage in less than comfortable conditions. One ruminates about what it must be like to live without a fixed address, to shower without privacy, to eat what is left, to find shelter where there is little to none. One tells us about a police raid that occurs at the camp she is at, and all are arrested except for her – the woman with the night gown with its Princess Dianna wedding puff, the Persian palace of her squat, making every place a home.

Older women experiencing homelessness is an ever-increasing reality. Last year there was an 83% hike in women ‘couch surfing’, and 75% increase in those sleeping in their cars. What happened? As affordable housing is almost unobtainable and increasing tens of thousands wait for government housing, older women are falling between the gaps, unable to obtain work or access important services. Services are going online – everything, as one woman points out, is online. How do you ask for help when you don’t have a phone? How do you ask for help when you can’t find electricity? The disconnect is painfully real. It’s a struggle to connect to these services as is, but when you have no home it’s a titanic struggle.

UnHOWsed is one of the most important work’s you’ll see. It’s under 60 minutes, and totally powerful. These are brave, real women, and they’re sharing a slice of themselves with the world to shed light on an experience far vaster and pervasive than the space of the stage.

UnHOWsed is performed at Theatre Works until Sunday 3 November. Tickets available here:

Photography courtesy of Lachlan Woods