Left – Sage Douglas and Amanda Woodhams. Photo – Robert Frith
While playwright, Reg Cribb admits that when he and director Andrew Lewis conceptualised this story a few years ago, it was “vaguely inspired by a couple of true life incidents”, a disclaimer on the front page of the program reads: “The Damned is a work of fiction and neither the author, Black Swan State Theatre Company nor its sponsors assert that any events actually occurred or that any character is, or embodies, any one or more persons, either living or dead”. With that said, it is impossible to ignore that events in the play are exactly the same or similar to facts revealed in court, and in interviews about a murder which took place in Collie in 2006.
Melody, a central character and the eventual murder victim in The Damned, was killed by two female friends, strangled with a speaker wire and was disposed of under a house. These are undeniable parallels to the case in question. Another similarity was the nature of the confession. Although I didn’t feel the distance came across in the production, in both the real case and in the play synopsis, it states that the girls walked into police stations 250km from each other to confess their crime. The resemblances don’t stop there. There was the wording of the text messages that were sent to their parents, the killers pretending to look for the victim after she “went missing” and that Kylie’s (one of the murderers) mother was killed in a car crash. The comparisons go on and on.
This true incident was apparently not the only one to inspire Cribb and Lewis’s venture. The ambiguous sexual nature of the relationship between Natasha and Kylie, the play’s two female protagonists, may have been influenced by a murder in Lathlain. In that case, a teenage girl was killed by a lesbian couple. The killers were only slightly older than the victim and supposedly friends with her. It took place shortly after the Collie murder.
Notes from the Director, Playwright and a factual piece by Jordan Nix in the program all reiterate the struggles that young people are facing in our current culture. Those marginalised by poverty and living in remote areas are particularly vulnerable to “leisure boredom” and the sometimes extreme consequences. Cribb says that he “writes to understand, to make sense of something deeply uneasy... “ This play is an example of that search for understanding.
To the dramaturgy and production itself, I was intrigued by a line on the poster which describes in the plot “a crime so unimaginable”. Perhaps we as a society have become numb to tragedy, but the supposedly “horrendous crimes” which played out in front of us were not actually confronting. There was drug use, self harm and plenty of swearing, but I don’t think this really shocks people anymore. The murder itself, was conducted so quickly and without impetus, that if we didn’t already know which one was going to die, it could have been any of them. I failed to see a journey for the three girls that indicated Natasha and Kylie were hatching a remorseless plot to kill Melody. Perhaps though, this is another mirror of the actual events because in both cases in question, the killing seemed to be relatively spontaneous, provoked by the influence of drugs. There was barely a hint of a journey for any of the characters, which may in itself be a reflection of the mundane, destructive lifestyle which can lead to a more extreme search for stimulation.
Melody, played by Claire Lovering, came across as a likeable, if a little misguided, young woman. The cameo appearance of her mother in the second act however revealed her to be somewhat duplicitous in that she lied about her past. Her announcement that she was moving back home made it seem that this whole adventure had been something of an experiment. This revelation may also be perceived as the motive for murder, the trigger for Kylie to attack. Lovering was stunning in appearance and natural in performance. She very capably handled the musical and even roller skating aspects of her role.
Alongside Lovering as 2010 WAAPA graduates were Sage Douglas (Kylie) and Wade Briggs (Ensemble) who both gave outstanding performances. Douglas imbued Kylie with perhaps the most convincing realism on the night. She created a character so recognisable and accessible that I think, despite the final unforgivable act, audiences may actually empathise with her.
Wade Briggs had the unenviable acting task of embodying 4 different characters over the course of the play, sometimes switching between them in a matter of seconds. He had a demanding amount of stage time, however he was well up to the task and took each new character on in body and voice. My favourite, I think, was Derek (the girls' landlord) who was so vastly incongruous with all of Briggs’s other guises and brought comic relief.
Greg McNeill and Polly Low brought a bevy of experience to their ensemble roles and portrayed them nicely. McNeill’s character “Ted” (Kylie’s dad) was a vehicle for some of Reg Cribb’s great dialogue, especially in the final scene wherein Ted confronts Natasha at the girls’ home.
According to the program biography, Amanda Woodhams (Natasha) appears to have fallen on her feet in the industry and scored some great roles and opportunities with relatively little experience and evidently no training. In an interview with the actress she states that she “hasn’t explored anger on stage yet”. This production must have presented quite a challenge to her, in that case, and given those circumstances, Woodhams did well.
Simplicity was key in the design of this production. There were no costume or set changes other than when ensemble characters changed roles. The set was a rusty old drive in screen which was used for visual projections that dictated scenic changes. Props were minimal and mobile. The actors included and discarded them seamlessly within the action.
Heavily referenced in the plot was the ABC’s youth radio station, Triple J. This was because the through line for the play was that the Rainbow townsfolk were petitioning to be the hosts of the “One Night Stand” music festival. I felt that the constant mentioning of Triple J, something which is so contemporary and real, jarring in a play that is meant to be a work of fiction.
It has been quite a while since I have seen a play that I have discussed so widely and thought about so deeply. Reg Cribb has been quoted to say that he likes difficult subject matter because it stimulates debate. On that front, I believe that he can consider this production of The Damned a success.
Black Swan State Theatre Company presents
by Reg Cribb
Director Andrew Lewis
Venue: Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA
Dates: 14 – 30 October 2011
Duration: approx. 2 hrs 20 min
Tickets: $44.50 – $24.95
Bookings: BOCS Ticketing (08) 9484 1133 | http://www.bocsticketing.com.au