Life in the alienated lane


By Kim Spurway

Visiting Hours
Written by Felix Mitterer
Directed by David Ritchie
With Gertrude Ingeborg and Barry Jones
Belvoir Theatre, Sydney, to September 15
Reviewed by Kim Spurway

Visiting Hours is a funny and compassionate look at the alienation of modern living. Four one-act plays take us to an old people's home, a women's prison, a psychiatric hospital and a hospital ward.

The old man in "Shunted Into a Siding" has lost any meaning to his life and is treated like a small child by the home. There is a painful analogy between his life and that of his pet dog, which is put down by his daughter-in-law because it is old and useless.

"Crime and Punishment" is a bitter conflict between a woman and her husband. She is in jail after having tried to kill him. He blames "the feminists" for her attack and the lack of control he has over his children. He complains that she used to be so quiet and passive; she counters by comparing jail very favourably to married life.

"Wheat on the Autobahn" explores sanity and insanity. An old farmer has been committed after protesting against the forced sale of his family property to make way a new autobahn. His protests included throwing manure on the freshly laid cement and sowing wheat on the concrete. His "madness" is that he believes that the world is being run by greedy men with plastic brains and that the farm that his family has had for 400 years is more important than a new freeway.

In the concluding play, "They tell you nothing", a woman dying of an unknown disease complains about the lack of information from the hospital and the lack of a caring attitude towards her. Her visiting husband is facing redundancy and a lonely, poverty-stricken old age without her.

Felix Mitterer writes in the tradition of German folk theatre — a simple and straightforward depiction of the hardships and struggles of ordinary people. Visiting Hours is well staged and the acting very convincing and moving. It's well worth seeing.

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