Engaging and evocative nostalgia
By Narelle Wood
Just as the title suggests, Milk Bars explores that iconic Australian fixture of the milk bar, its place in Australia’s past and its potentially questionable future.
This is not your average theatre show though; it’s performance art. Over the course of an hour and a half, the audience are guided from room to room to witness different performances and art installations that all, in some way, explore the idea of the milk bar.
The performances range from Elnaz Sheshgelani’s exploration of pre-Islamic Persian storytelling to Janette Hoe’s movement and mime pieces to a heart-felt talk presented by Domenic Greco, the executive Director of CAMBA. Each performance adds another perspective to the milk bar experience. Hoe transforms herself into a milk-bar owner, contrasting the talkative and perky behind-the-counter persona with the personal struggles that occur behind the scenes. Shane Grant’s monologue, beginning with advertising catchphrases that he and Zayn Ulfan shout at each other from across the room, documents the sacrifice and hard work of milk bar owners especially in a time of modernisation.
The theme across all performances is definitely this hard work and sacrifice in the face of an unknown future, thanks to globalisation and giant supermarket chains. But amidst this are stories of new immigrants finding their place in new communities and the sense of community and belonging that a milkbar can provide.
Each of the performances in themselves were fantastic, and as an ensemble, left me profoundly nostalgic for the local corner store where you could buy a massive bag of mixed lollies for 20 cents and buy your mum a packet of ciggies because the shop lady knew you. This is in no small way due to the setting of Milkbars, which under the artistic direction of Gorkem Acaroglu, transports you back to what appears to an authentic 1970’s milk bar. There are Big M calendar ads on the wall, an obligatory Chico Roll ad, Tarax pineapple soda in the fridge, and you can also purchase your very own bag of mixed lollies.
This isn’t the sort of show I’d normally gravitate towards, but the mixture of art installations, performances and movement between spaces was a really fascinating way of reflecting upon what the milk bar means to you personally, as well as to the performances and Australia culture.
Milk Bars was performed at The Mechanics Institute, 270 Sydney Rd, Brunswick, from July 27 – August 6, 2016