Australia’s housing crisis doesn’t just mean that 38% of people who have experienced food insecurity in the past year were unable to buy food because of their rising rents and mortgages. It also means our community’s most vulnerable, including disabled and chronically ill people, single older women and the elderly, are at high and still-increasing risk of becoming homeless.
In Good Cook. Friendly. Clean., written by exciting relative newcomer Brooke Robinson, we look directly into the eyes of one of those vulnerable women. Sandra (Tara Morice) has been politely evicted from her sharehouse by its two young residents A (Kelly Paterniti) and B (Fayssal Bazzi). B has a friend about to move to Sydney and needs a hand settling in. The housemates feel bad, but Sandra is kind of weird, and she’s so much older than they are, and she’ll be fine, right? It’s not a big deal.
Sure, Sandra isn’t having a great time of it – it’s clear very quickly that she’s been unwell – and she’s only just begun talking about looking for work again. It’s not the best time to have to move. Still, she dives into the flighty and frequently bizarre world of flatshare interviews with optimism and unfussy friendliness. What follows is a darkly funny sequence of interviews with potential housemates (played with quick-changes and sharp timing by Paterniti and Bazzi).
But suddenly it isn’t funny anymore.
Over the course of several housemate interviews (Melanie Liertz’s set manages to suggest a series of slightly-dodgy apartments with exposed plumbing and a dreaded bean bag), Sandra’s situation becomes uncomfortable, then unsafe and then heartbreaking; there’s no clear support available to her and a place to sleep becomes harder and harder to find. Australia is currently experiencing a ‘tsunami’ of homeless older women, and Sandra shows us how we’ve gotten to this point. Step by painful step.
Directed with a steady, compassionate hand by Marion Potts, Tara Morice’s Sandra is the centre of the play and you can’t look away from her for a second – not when she’s being a little eager and desperate, not when she’s spiralling, and not when she’s trying, quickfire and clever, to adapt into something suitable for each household.
Why don’t we care for each other anymore? That’s one of the more discomfiting questions lurking around the edges of Good Cook. Friendly. Clean., which shows Sydney at its least kind and most judgemental. Where is our patience for those a little difference from us? Where’s our consideration and desire to connect to the community around us? In the world of the play, Sandra is failed by the greedy property market, by self-absorbed contemporary life, by illness and a lack of infrastructure to protect and help her through crisis. It’s horrible, but it’s not the worst thing. The worst thing is that there are thousands like Sandra trying to find somewhere safe to lay their head every single night, and they’re all around us. This play might – and probably should – terrify you.