Fourteen; A Coming-of-Age Memoir


Fourteen Rating

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There are plays which immerse the audience immediately. Fourteen, originally a memoir by Shannon Molloy and adapted by Nelle Lee, Nick Skubij and the author, grabs our attention and takes us back in time to 1999. To the town of Yeppoon on the coast of Rockhampton, where the birds sweetly sing as the morning sun drenches the timber balcony and weatherboard walls. But all is not idyllic in Shannon Molloy’s life as he navigates being fourteen, questioning his sexuality and dealing with life in a small town.

This is a story of a young man in an all-boys Christian school, subject to extreme bullying, both physical and verbal taunts and the victim of cruel practical jokes. Fourteen is told mostly in flashback snapshots by Shannon, flawlessly played by Conor Leach. Conor convincingly portrayed the emotions and vulnerability of Shannon.

The retelling of the unfairness and the constant terrorising of a young teenage boy must not be lost in current society, and Molloy has not held back in recounting these parts of his life which no doubt would have been painful to write about.

There are scenes in Fourteen which tell a cautionary tale of what happens when those who are supposed to protect us, such as the teachers in his school, not only fail in their duty of care but actively become an antagonistic force. There is a build-up of multiple classroom incidents where a teacher (played by Steven Rooke) continuously ignores verbal abuse towards Shannon in his classroom. I found another bullying incident extremely disturbing, where he grabs a sexually explicit letter falsely signed by Shannon and reads it aloud to the class. Today a quarter of a century later, teachers are subject to accountability for their actions so I would like to believe that they would not act the way that teacher did in Fourteen and if so, they would be called out.

The deceptively complex set design by Josh McIntosh uses a clever amalgamation of multi-story levels, several doors hinting to other larger spaces and a central turning stage used to create a spotlight on the characters and the storyline. The lighting by Trent Suidgeest and the sound design by Guy Webster were integral to the play, highlighting dramatic points and creating a realistic atmosphere. One intense scene where Shannon looks into the mirror facing the audience, as he contemplates ending his life was powerfully portrayed using the framing outline and lighting to highlight his distress.

Although harrowing, and some scenes are quite harrowing, director Nick Skubij, creative producer Ross Balbuziente and the cast ensure that there are times which show how the support of Shannon’s family and friends buoy him in his darkest moments. We cheer on Shannon in a leadership role as he creates a fashion show with the supportive youth worker from the local community youth centre. Fourteen shows just how important it is to have a community who loves you for who you are.

Cast members played multiple characters and they were distinguished with the use of costumes designed by Fabian Holford. Karen Crone stood out in multiple roles, notably as Shannon’s salt of the Earth supportive mother – who he calls his rock.

The script strikes a good balance of seriousness with comedy which lightens the play. Scattered throughout, the choice of familiar cheesy late 90’s music accompanied by synchronised dance moves onstage encouraged the audience to burst into song, which is always a good sign that they are having a good time!

The Shake and Stir Theatre company’s Fourteen is a story of pain, healing, and hope. We are left with one teen’s story of survival that can be blanketed across to any teen, regardless of gender, sexuality, or race. For those people who are feeling hopeless, or have experienced bullying, the universal message remains to never give up and that there is life to be lived and love to be had, beyond the school gate.

Fourteen runs for one hour and forty minutes with no interval. The play I saw on Friday, May 3, at The Riverside Theatre was the first performance of a National 20-city tour.

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A Playful Parody – Potted Potter Returns to The Seymour Centre

A Playful Parody – Potted Potter Returns to The Seymour Centre

Potted Potter Rating

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What began as a skit in 2005 to entertain people lining up to buy Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in a London bookstore has become Potted Potter, a smash hit sell-out show all around the world. This modest five-minute skit grew to incorporate the first six books in a one-hour show in 2006. Creators Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner expanded their show in 2007 to include JK Rowling’s seventh book, which is where the magic lies in this current form.

It’s easy to see how Potted Potter has outlasted other parodies over the last 17 years. The formula is simple – make your audience laugh! And laugh we did for almost all of the 70-minute performance. There were audience members of all ages, from kids dressed up in their favourite Hogwarts house uniform as others donned witch’s pointy black hats to parents and the older generation attendees. At times, it was similar to a kid-friendly ‘clean’ stand-up comedy set, complete with a lot of audience participation and laughs. One part I shan’t spoil had the audience involved in a group game.

The script was deceptively clever, delivered in a rapid conversation between the two characters, Brendan and Scott. Despite the fast narration, there were no fumbles or tripping over the quick-witted lines. Paired with comedic physicality and perfect timing, the character’s expressions sometimes gave away their surprise when interacting, hinting at some smart stage improvisation. This appeared to keep the script fresh and was delivered so well that it was hard to tell whether it was improv or really good acting. Either way, it worked. They cleverly wove in lines that were particularly Australian too, at one time referring to the ‘bin chicken’, which made everyone laugh.

The set design by Simon Scullion was purposely basic, which didn’t place them at Hogwarts; rather, it added to the charm of a parody. The same was true for the costumes and props used. It was like Turner and Clarkson raided their dress-up and toy box at home and used what they had, such as a stuffed snake and various wigs. Rather than detract from the performance, they added a comfortable charm and a good spice of fun to the Potted Potter experience.

Composer Phil Innes created an air of Harry Potter expectation as the audience was being seated. The music as each book tale begins is cute in the repetition.

The performance also featured some magic, as expected from a book about this topic, as well as a hilarious musical duet complete with a dance break between the two characters to close the show. One of my favourite lines delivered by a ridiculously dressed character was, ” Look it up in the book of cool.”

This quirky performance of Potted Potter will appeal to people of all ages if you expect a lighthearted and quick tour through the seven books’ plot points.

Do you need to have read all seven books to enjoy this performance? No, not at all. It certainly referred to certain things that people who love the Harry Potter series would quickly understand; however, those who hadn’t read all the books gained an understanding of what was going on easily. The characters were all there, in fine form, represented by the two actors.

Potter Potter An Unauthorised Harry Experience is playing at The Seymour Centre, Sydney, from 12 – 21 April and will tour Melbourne, Adelaide, and Perth throughout May.

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In the opening scene of Lally Katz’s semi-autobiographical play Atlantis, Lally confides in her boyfriend at the time, Dave, about an important dream she had involving a panther, friendship, and growing up in Miami. Dave reluctantly listens, and when Lally confronts him about not being interested in her story, Dave casually remarks that he isn’t. I confess I found it difficult to engage with her story, too.

The biggest problem lay at the core of the stage play, with a heavy emphasis on narrating events occurring on stage, making it difficult to settle down and immerse myself in a scene. After half an hour of ongoing narration, I had no idea where the story was meant to be going or why I should be caring. Lally was doing stuff while telling us about doing that stuff and relying too heavily on ‘this is a true story’, but maybe I’m being unfair.

I could see where the dialogue and narration could have used a more delicate touch. Often, the story may have worked better at a different pace or delivered more reflectively and thoughtfully. Georgia Britt, to her credit, played Lally with energy and enthusiasm. But Lally (not Britt) comes across as a hyperactive, overbearing, self-indulgent narcissist obsessed with marriage, babies, and curses. Lally is quirky, optimistic, and energetic almost all the time, which, to my mind, distracts us from the deeper character arc of her story.

Many scenes suffered pacing issues, sometimes seeming to be a race to get through a scene as fast as possible, with offbeat timing, pace, and/or control.

The most interesting character was Electra, played superbly by Tamara Foglia Castañeda, but felt her efforts were diluted because there was no humorous contrast between her rapid-fire New York Latino delivery and that of rapid-fire, overly enthusiastic about everything Lally. Many of the characters came across as manic. Some scenes would have been far more emotional, interesting, and impactful if the play had slowed down and become more intimate.

The set itself and the technical delivery were impressive. Two single panels and a few props were used to create a range of environments, from apartments to streets, nightclubs, and churches. Each panel also had chalkboard windows that would open up to serve as bars, windows, reception desks and even a DJ booth. I was, however, confused as to why place names were written on the chalkboards, like subtitles in a movie, when we switched locations. There was so much potential there to use the chalkboards for more than place names.

The cast did a great job switching between their multiple characters, which came across more as caricatures to me. The cast did what they could, but unfortunately, much of their time, effort, and energy fell flat on occasion.

The story is that of the playwright, and the characters are based on real people. My favourite moments revolved around Electra’s dog. The second was an in-joke about a caricature the same performer had played earlier. And the third was the sex scene. I was genuinely impressed and amused by the creativity of the sex scene between Lally and Diego.

Alyona Popova genuinely entertained me in the background of a scene between Lally and an Uber driver. With each driving scene, a spare actor in the background runs a toy car around the inside of a window frame. During Lally’s final journey to Miami, given the length of the journey represented, Popova used the entire backdrop and moved with a slow, purposeful grace. It was a slow-motion dance, really, and genuinely entertaining.

An interaction with a New York Cabbie helped introduce us to the theme of Atlantis. References included global warming, finding oneself, holding on to the past, yearning, loneliness, the challenges of womanhood, growing up, and finding love.

These are themes I normally connect with. I appreciate being drawn into the characters’ feelings and emotions, but the play goes so fast that I found investing in Lally and her struggles challenging. And that’s a shame. To be fair, many in the audience were noisy and laughing out loud—a lot. So it just might be that Lally and I just didn’t connect with each other on this occasion.

Atlantis is playing at the New Theatre in Newtown until the 13th of April, 2024.

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Boeing Boeing – A Fun Ride On An Old Classic

Boeing Boeing

As the lights dimmed and the last few people made their way to their seats, I turned to my friend and said they should play the message tone familiar to anyone who’s hopped on a plane. Moments later, there it was, that familiar sound, followed by a tongue-in-cheek announcement mimicking cabin crew telling us the onboard entertainment would be live. It made me smile like a little kid getting ice cream. In an instant, I knew this was going to be fun, and I settled in for take-off.

Marc Camoletti’s Boeing Boeing has been a theatre staple since its first French production in 1960, even made into a movie starring Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis. Set in 1960s Paris, contemporary at the time, it’s aged into a retro comedy about a deceitful Lothario, Bernard, juggling three separate fiancés who are all air hostesses. Thanks to alternating airline schedules, each comes home for a short time believing they’re Bernard’s one true love while remaining oblivious to the others. The energetic farce kicks off when Bernard’s old friend Robert arrives, and interruptions to the schedules throw the routine into chaos, sending the women into a turbulent collision course.

Michael Mulvenna seems at ease playing the womanising Bernard, oozing sophistication and charm in the early stages and then descending into panic and terror as he loses control. Each of his three fiancés in their colour-coded uniform brought their characters to life with exaggerated accents and outstanding energy.

In red, there’s the confident and sassy American, Gloria (Laura Stead); in blue is the fiery and temperamental Italian, Gabriella (Gabrielle Rawlings); and in yellow, the carnal and loud German, Gretchen (Cassandra Gorman). (As an aside, the sets and costume design are terrific.) Luke Baweja does a great job as the nervous Robert, trying desperately to keep the women apart as they play musical rooms. His physical comedy often triggered the biggest laughs, and his manic nervousness created a sense of exhaustion whilst still allowing the fun to continue.

My highlight was Maggie Scott as Bernard’s long-suffering and grumpy maid, Bertha. Her sardonic French accent and defeated body language were constantly amusing, and she was a delight every time she shuffled onto the stage and sighed, ‘Yes, monsieur.’

While the play is a classic for good reason, the story risks becoming outdated, such as Bernard’s pride in his ‘clever’ deception and manipulation of women or Richard’s admiration of it. Luckily, it isn’t mean-spirited, and the women give as much as they get.

The play deals with Bernard’s womanising in a way that justice is served while still making everyone happy. Director Chrissie McIntyre rightfully focused on the tomfoolery and physical comedy to keep the audience laughing throughout. The cast attacked the material with energy and enthusiasm, which is vital in making a play like this work. It’s meant to be silly and fun, so if you don’t buy into the characters and absurdity of the situation, or if the actors hold back, you don’t laugh. Thankfully, I did, and so did everyone else.

Boeing Boeing is a fun, light-hearted retro romp that’s boarding at the Hunters Hills Theatre in Club Ryde until the 24th of March. Don’t miss your flight!

This review also appears on It’s On The House, and check out more reviews at Dark Stories Theatre to see what else is on in your town.

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