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Stickybricks

This is community theater on a grandiose scale. Three years in the making, writer-director Scott Rankin's work has harnessed a handful of professional actors, a barbershop trio, a portrait painter, a photographer, about 100 tenants of the Northcott public housing estate, two chefs, community liaison officers and even a crime prevention officer.

With:
With: Kerry Armstrong, Leah Purcell, Kerry Walker, Glynn Nicholas, Lex Marinos, Saira Luther, Jackie Orzaczky, the Swish Dudes.

This is community theater on a grandiose scale. Three years in the making, writer-director Scott Rankin’s work, “Stickybricks,” has harnessed a handful of professional actors, a barbershop trio, a portrait painter, a photographer, about 100 tenants of the Northcott public housing estate, two chefs (show began with a dinner-box distribution), community liaison officers and even a crime prevention officer.

Why the crime prevention officer? Because that’s the kind of place Northcott is. Known for drug dealers, murders and suicide leaps from the 15-story inner-city tower, the estate stretches two blocks and is home to people of myriad nationalities. Some arrived last year, others have lived there for 45 years.

With a stage built in the tower’s courtyard, Rankin projects patterns on the walls and photographs of the residents on a stage backdrop; some of the participants deliver their lines from balconies or open windows.

There’s no story, as such, but a series of David Hare-style residents’ testimonials delivered by the actors. Much is made of a visit in 1963 by Queen Elizabeth.

The testimonials are interspersed by tenants reading the lyrics of pop songs such as Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” and the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

One colorful resident sits atop a podium while her portrait is painted, four Chinese couples waltz on one side of the stage, then a barbershop trio bellows from a second-floor balcony.

And so it goes. There is little rhyme but lots of reason to “Stickybricks.” The Northcott estate was coursing with uncharacteristic anticipation in the days leading up to the show.

And the audience was able to steal a peek into public housing from the safety of an organized arts project.

One has to wonder, however, if the residents of the swanky Horizon apartment block, equally famous in Sydney but for different reasons, would reveal their stories for a Sydney Festival show. Would they dance and sing onstage? Would they welcome the audience with dinner boxes? Maybe not.

Stickybricks

Northcott Building, Sydney; 1,000 seats; A$50 ($38) top

Production: A Big Hart and Sydney Festival presentation of a play in one act, written and directed by Scott Rankin.

Creative: Sets, Genevieve Dugard; lighting, Sydney Bouhaniche; musical director, Robert Iolini; photography, Keith Saunders; writer, Vanessa Bates; 3-D mapping/video mixing, Jack Barton; DJ, Leon Ewing; choreography, Fiona Bakes; portrait painter, Robert Hannaford; video editing, Brian Rapsey; menu and catering, John & Peter. Opened Jan. 12, 2006. Reviewed Jan. 13. Running time: 2 HOURS, 10 MIN.

Cast: With: Kerry Armstrong, Leah Purcell, Kerry Walker, Glynn Nicholas, Lex Marinos, Saira Luther, Jackie Orzaczky, the Swish Dudes.

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