Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Seventeen, Belvoir

Getting actors who are 70-odd to play 17 year olds is, undoubtedly, a gimmick. But getting very very good actors who happen to be in their seventies to play these roles is far more than a gimmick  - it's about letting us see theatre legends with their hair down, playing roles far removed from their usual work, looking at that point on the verge of adulthood where life seems to offer huge changes in the smallest gesture.

A simple story of a bunch of teens out for a party after the last night of school, Matthew Whittet's script could very easily be boiled down to the simplest stereotypes. Mike's the alphamale, tough and in charge, Tom is his bookish friend who's about to move to Melbourne, Sue is Mike's attractive and compassionate girlfriend, Edwina's Sue's nerdy best friend, Ronny the weirdo that they all try to avoid and Lizzy is the annoying little sister. Gathered in a park with some tunes, some beers and a few vodka shots for one last night out, the addition of a game of truth or dare starts getting a few more truths out there than normal.

As you can spot, there's a few devices here that feel a little stock (in particular, the truth-or-dare game and the "he's moving to Melbourne" ticking clock). But more importantly, there's the acting. Playing a seventeen year old country kid seems to have knocked off some of John Gaden's patrician airs - he's convincing as a guy who is slightly off-putting in his determination to be in control, but ultimately is subject to a helpless passion. Maggie Dence as Sue is truly embraceably real, that strange mixture of a carefree air and a slight worry that her life doesn't necessarily have an easy map to it. Anna Volska's Edwina projects a great sense of superiority that is increasingly wobbled as she gets drunker. And Genevieve Lemon's Lizzy has that great "Can I play too" attitude, but also is heartbreaking in her moment of compassion for her big brother when he starts to break. I do think Peter Carrol's Tom is slgightly under-characterised (he's sorta the default protagonist, but either Carrol hasn't found much to play in him, or there isn't much to hold onto in the role that's interesting) - and Otto's Ronny is a little familiar from other performances Otto has given in the past - it's a case where stereotyping slightly weakens the effect.

Anna Louise-Sark directs with mostly a firm hand (although her silent patch in the first five minutes is kinda offputting - Belvoir's had a couple of shows in the last twelve months which have slowed the action to a crawl, and I've tended to find the slowness has not been rewarded with depth). This is a piece with heart and soul rather than necessarily a deep think-piece about what seventeen means - but it manages to get over the slightly stock situation with some skilled focused acting and a gentle script that doesn't hit the message button too hard.

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