A filmmaker called Maisey Mata is making a documentary about the Hauraki Women’s Refuge in Thames, New Zealand. Speaking directly to her camera are the women staying in the refuge, and the staff who are looking after them.
Moira is an optimistic, bright and bubbly co-ordinator at the refuge, who looks after the women who are staying there. Firstly there is Cat: a twenty-three-year-old mother of five, who has nowhere to stay and is desperately trying to get back the custody of her kids. She is sullen, and full of a bravado that hides her vulnerability. Next comes Sasha, a long-term resident who is trying to recover from a rape by a family member that has left her isolated and alone. She is withdrawn and quiet, clearly devastated by her experience. And finally there is the newcomer Teresa, who has suffered at the hands of her physically and emotionally abusive husband for over twenty years. She is trying to keep a brave face – and is looking forward to a future where she can care for herself.
All of the female characters are played by Kali Kopae, in an absolutely extraordinary performance. Each character speaks differently, and they all have their own way of moving and acting that Kopae manages to switch between effortlessly. In one scene towards the end of the play a man, playing the husband of Teresa Cummings, comes onto the stage. It’s a very powerful scene; however, this is the only time that there is another performer other than Kopae. The surprise is completely out of place and I feel that, if he isn't going to be used in other scenes, it would be better if he wasn't used at all.
The set is a series of chairs that get moved around as necessary. There are also dozens of lamps, all different shapes and sizes. To me, these lamps represented all the women who have suffered domestic and or sexual abuse; it can happen to anyone at any time, but shelters like the real-life Hauraki Women’s Refuge can help support women to get back on their feet, and away from their abusers.
Not in Our Neighbourhood would be worth seeing if only for the brilliant performance by Kali Kopae. But the play is also important in highlighting the different kinds of experience that women can face around domestic and sexual abuse. Overall, it is a powerful and well-written piece that is well worth seeing.