This article first appeared online at http://rmitcatalyst.com/review-the-chat/ and has been republished with permission.
by Katie Coulthard | @coulthard_katie
The parole system, riddled with controversy, is a topic few would dare to broach via the medium of theatre, but J.R Brennan has gallantly done so.
Drawing on his past experiences as a parole board officer in NSW, The Chat is a unique glimpse into the challenges faced by the justice system and those subject to it’s scrutiny– hardened criminals with a lucky chance to start over again.
The experimental play, set in July 2051 envisages a more ‘holistic approach in the criminal justice system’.
The typical sit-down interview between parole board officer and prisoner has vanished and replaced with a complex psychological practice, dubbed ‘trans- personalisation’.
To break it down into simpler terms, the interview format remains but instead, the prisoner is asked to utilise acting skills and characterise himself as the presiding officer and visa-verse. With their roles reversed, judgement is determined by how the inmate interacts with someone in his position, albeit fictitious.
Audiences are also thrust into the spotlight and instructed to ultimately decide the fate of the original inmate and if released into the community, the conditions which he must abide by.
From the moment seats are taken, we’re encouraged to consider the intricate details– behaviours, mannerisms, and appearances– of the aspiring parolee. After all, the safety of the community is of paramount concern and rests entirely on our shoulders.
It’s a confronting format and tension in the room is high. Scene changes are rapid and it becomes clear why we were warned to pay close attention to detail.
The strength of this production is primarily within its narrative and subtle referencing to present-day law and order.
Undeniably, there’s a lot going on– interpretive dance, a prison march, conversations in an office between officials and CCTV footage depicting a lack of privacy blares in a corner of the stage–but the format is intriguing and provokes deep thought about the perils of the justice system and impossibility of pleasing all parties involved.