It was in 2009 when I first saw Tahli Corin on the train. A city bound morning train on the Inner West Line… She writing in a note book on her way to her job in the city, me struggling to find a seat whilst carrying several folders and bags as I used to then. I was moderately shy of her then… that was a long time ago: before I invited her onto the 428 bus for Stories from the 428 and after I had my heart broken and swept up again by her Sydney debut Bumming With Jane… that was before I had witnessed Tahli’s “One For the Ugly Girls” during NovemberISM (2011) and that was before I had become obsessed with the voyeurism of public transport A View From Moving Windows and after I realised that Tahli Corin just might be the Hannie Rayson of my generation…

Somewhere in between I had learnt of Corin’s MX inspired play- Girl In Tan Boots- followed its development at Sydney Theatre Company’s Rough Draft project… I had watched as snippets were presented and unfurled like a magician’s hand before my eyes. The sleight of hand of new play development – sometimes you can feel you know a play, but you don’t. You don’t really. Not until it’s in a brochure, until the lights dim and the action starts.

I have no qualms declaring my history with this play and this playwright, nor will I deny the fact I supported the Pozible campaign and I have the badge to prove it. Also I’ll admit this is the play I have chosen to re-enter the world of blog responses with…

When the lights rise on the diamond stage at the Stables theatre, we are anywhere. Beige carpet, rudimentary decor, two doors – a kind of purgatory. The premise:

“Hannah is 32, single and slightly overweight. Hannah has eczema and lives alone with a cat named Cupid. Hannah reads the love messages in the commuter magazine religiously, hoping one day, one day, there will be one just for her. But when Hannah goes missing while waiting for a mystery man at a Sydney train station, her friends and family are left to question whether their actions played a part… Girl in Tan Boots is a delicate and funny play about love, loneliness and the struggle to stay visible in a big, busy city.”

In the day to day rush and push of Sydney’s commuter culture is a quaint throw back to yester-year – newspapers handed out at station entrances/exits – the MX. Other than the flap and fold of the paper, phones and tablets glow into the faces of hunched bodies. The paper a welcome distraction from the well-known roll call of station names as they flick past. And hidden in the paper a section called “Here’s Looking at You” a lonely hearts column full of yearning and pick up lines… the attraction of which is the fact that amongst the generic descriptions of office workers: there seems to be a desire to be noticed, or wanted or spoken to.

Overall, Corin’s Girl in Tan Boots is a whodunnit of the most classical kind – three acts well plotted sketch the world around Hannah – her social sphere is generic and low key: Hannah, by all accounts is an average girl with an unremarkable life. This is not a play which seeks to break or bend traditional playwriting structure: in fact a fairly clipped naturalism keeps the dialogue clicking over – this is a play which is about social context and ideas. Whereas it can be easy to read this play as a simple detective story, and it is, more can be plumbed on the portrait of contemporary life’s pressure on the single, the unremarkable, the alone.

Weaving together the phenomenon of invited voyeurism, familial voyeurism, collegiate voyeurism and public voyeurism – this is a story about the examined life. Most startling is that what is most interesting about this play is not the story of what happened to Hannah, but the reality that the surrounding accounts of Hannah and her life are held in such scant and broad brush detail by the people who know/love/have regular contact with her. Hannah is an everywoman that demonstrates how lightly even our loved ones know us: how simply we regard each other and how easy it is to assume the surface presentation of a person. And we do so, at our peril.

This is not a portrait of Gen Y or Empty-nesters, single career women, or sex addicted office workers, it’s a portrait of an overly simplified, disconnected inauthentic understanding of who we are. The most intriguing section of this play, is not the whodunnit, no, (and nor do I think it should be) the most intriguing moment is when Mum (Odile le Clezio) asks Detective Carapetis (Linden Wilkinson) to stop looking for Hannah – an act which I read as ultimate love and generosity: to let her daughter go and re-invent and re-imagine her life as a person who does not want to be found.

Some aspects of the production are uneven: “magic” is introduced a little late to be regarded as anything but an after thought. We delight in the language and reality of the play being close to home, of our place. Although I could not help but delight in the bright and bold physicality of Lucy (Francesca Savige)/Mandy (Zindzi Okenyo) /Katie (Madeleine Jones) the characters in the production swing between sturdy heart-felt naturalism and heightened caricature which feels more fickle fancy than considered directorial tone.

All in all though, this is a production which speaks to here and now – about the crisis of notions of knowing each other, about where we carve our impact upon each other in our community. And perhaps the importance of living a life true to one’s impulses beyond the expectations and understanding of others.