InDaily (Suzie Keen)


It’s exhausting, spending an hour in The Streets with Teater Garasi.

The performing arts company recreates all the colour, chaos and craziness of a busy city street in Indonesia – then plunges its audience into the middle of the mayhem.

There’s a policeman giving directions, hawkers, buskers, a jogger, ladies of the night, homeless people sleeping under woven mats and inside mattresses, a marching band, singing, dancing, cycling, skateboarders, impromptu games of badminton and chess, even a wedding party.

And it all happens in a theatre space stripped of its usual tiered seating and conventional stage, surrounded instead by corrugated iron and timber hoardings plastered with posters and graffiti.

Welcome to The Streets, a theatre-in-the-round performance incorporating dance, theatre, installations and a live band, where you’ll be greeted with a drink and invited to either stand or take a spot on the limited seating around the outside of the set or on a cushion on the floor – with the warning that you might need to move as the action unfolds around you.

The show is a whirlwind tour through Indonesia’s recent socio-political history, with a loose, often poetic narrative spoken largely in Indonesian but also conveyed through English surtitles projected onto the makeshift walls.

Personal stories – from a girl describing frightening scenes of looting and burning amid severe food shortages, to a man lamenting the fact that his bride is absent on their wedding day because she is starting a new job in a different province – traverse the effects of globalisation, capitalisation, bureaucracy and the country’s transition from a repressive regime under President Suharto to democratic governance.

The performance and music reflect the changing mood on the streets; there’s dancing, fighting, singing, laughing and shouting – sometimes all at once. And as political and social freedom increases, so, too, does the cacophony of sights and sounds.

Teater Garasi director Yudi Ahmad Tajudin, who has said he wants audiences to see the potential order in the chaos, had his performers spend six months researching and experiencing Indonesian street life so they could embody the bustle and complexity of this new urban world.

It’s a place where there are tensions between the wealthy and the poor, traditional and Western cultures, city and rural lifestyles, and different generations – but it’s also, Yudi says, full of vibrancy and optimism.

Encapsulating all these ideas and feelings, The Streets is an unusual, visceral and highly entertaining production. Just park your preconceptions of theatre at the door and surrender to the experience.

Teater Garasi is presenting The Streets at the Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, from September 24-26 as part of the OzAsia Festival, which runs from September 24 until October 4.