Trolley Boys | Wild Oat ProductionsPhotos - Gavin Clark

In a dingy suburban wasteland best mates Dirk and Todd, our titular trolley-collection boys, are rapidly approaching their 21st birthdays and inevitable sacking by the supermarket’s unofficial policy on keeping their workers young and cheap. Faced with expulsion from the shopping centre which seems to be their whole world, these rather dim lads seek salvation by embarking on an unlikely quest into the foreboding, mythic lands beyond the car park, in search of a legendary homeless lady who is said to grant wishes.

This would have to be one of the more peculiar plays I’ve seen in recent times – an odd, awkward mishmash of styles and ideas that never seem to really coalesce and yet it undeniably has a certain flair and style, an engaging energy. What exactly it’s all in aid of is unfortunately less apparent.

On one level, the play seems to be an homage to adventure films of the ‘80s like The Goonies (indeed, the play’s soundtrack uses some identifiable bits of film score from Labyrinth and Back to the Future, as well as some pop songs of the era) along with smatterings of other genres such as B-movie zombie and fantasy flicks. The characters, on the other hand, seem to be refugees from slacker/teen movies, albeit with a localised vernacular flavour.

If this all sounds like a bit of a contrived popcultural milkshake you wouldn’t be far wrong, and perhaps one of its more annoying aspects is that, in the absence of a compelling or original narrative, one might at least expect to gain some nostalgic amusement from a consistent and well-observed milieu. Unfortunately though, the references are all over the place, and while the musical and stylistic cues all initially suggest a 1980s setting, the play is also sprinkled with incongruously contemporary references such as swine flu and Boost Juice, leading more to head-scratching than amusement.

The story, such as it is, seems to be a standard coming-of-age tale laced in with the adventure/quest plot, although its conclusion seems so forced and banal that I have to admit I didn’t even notice the rather obvious Wizard of Oz parallel that my theatre companion picked up on. Even that paled in comparison to trying to follow the literal meaning of some rather ambiguous and potentially metaphysical implications at the very end, over which we could reach no mutually satisfactory interpretation.

Although most aspects of the play are decidedly clunky and ill-conceived, Trolley Boys does nevertheless possess a certain strange charm almost in spite of itself. The exaggerated characters and especially the overblown dialogue have an irrepressibility in their rough-hewn vigour that is tough to ignore. Although hardly complex or original, these familiar character types are such a font of risibly anachronistic slang, unwieldy epithets and inarticulate teenage posturing that you can’t help but be amused by the simultaneous dexterity and ineptitude of their pronouncements. It’s something most people can probably remember from being that age, regardless of the exact vocab in use when and where they grew up.

I’d be suspicious of giving too much credit to the script for even this, however, as the only really unqualified praise for this whole production must go to the actors who gamely seem to be giving their all to this often fairly dubious material. They may not be able to rescue the thin plot or floundering themes, but they make a decent impact with their amusing characters and entertaining dialogue, seemingly generating as much energy as they can muster to provide some rather ebullient performances.

Aidan Gillett and Jamie McCarney make a good double-act as the central pair of Dirk and Todd, the former as the relatively taciturn brains of the pair and the latter particularly hilarious as their dim-witted but excitable brawn. Riding some dog-eared genre clichés as the sister of one friend and love interest for the other, Emily Rose Brennan displays both comic timing and as much genuine acting skill as the preposterous plot allows.

Rounding out the small cast in doubled roles are Brett Rogers and David O’Donnell, who are both very funny as a pair of bullying rival trolley boys, although less so in their rather more outlandish secondary roles.

Ultimately though, even an engaging cast and some amusing dialogue really can’t rescue this rather amateurish bit of writing. Indeed, were it not for the fact that the1980s references would suggest someone much older, I would almost suspect that Alex Cullen’s script was the product of a precocious 16-year-old, reminiscent as it is of some kind of playbuilt high school project in which enthusiasm outstrips ability. And, in the unlikely event that this could actually have been an ironic, intentional nod to the slapdash nature of some of the films the play evokes, then it has done its job too convincingly and with not nearly enough of a wink to the audience. By the same token, it seems very unclear who is the intended audience for this production, as the story largely plays like something made for teens or younger, while the language, venue and retro cultural references make this seem unlikely.

Trolley Boys may have some strong performances and curiously entertaining aspects to it, but is, in the final estimation, a fairly underwhelming endeavour.

Wild Oat Productions in association with Tamarama Rock Surfers Presents
Trolley Boys
by Alex Cullen

Director Michael Dahlstrom

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre | Cnr Cathedral St and Dowling St Woolloomooloo
Dates: 13 January – 6 February 2010
Times: Tuesday – Saturday 8pm, Sunday 5pm
Tickets: $29 Full, $21 Concession, $35 Beer, laksa & show, $17 Cheap Tuesday (plus BF)
Bookings: OR 1300 438 849 OR box office 75 mins prior to performance

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