Compass | ATYP

I don’t review a lot of children’s theatre, largely because I’m never quite sure how to approach it. Being an aged and wizened twentysomething, I’m not exactly the target demographic. But I feel comfortable in saying that Compass at ATYP is some really good theatre for young people. It’s smart, funny, and thought-provoking.

One of the most instructive parts of seeing Compass for me was actually witnessing the post show Q&A at the end. The audience – largely made up of school children about the same age as the protagonists of the show – had some really perceptive reactions, questions, and observations. This makes me think that the show has done its job: it is communicating in an intelligent way to its intended audience, not speaking down to them or condescending, entertaining them but also making them think.

The Compass of the title is both a literal compass (no one in the play can get their compass to point north) and a moral compass. If you were desperate, the play asks, how far would your perceptions of right and wrong shift? A group of Year Seven students are forced to make some tough decisions when they’re separated from their teacher on their school camp and forced to form their own community. When a mysterious stranger (a kid like them) who cannot speak appears in their campsite, stealing their food, what is the right course of action?

All the characters in the play come to different decisions, from the Machiavellian (kill him) to the humanitarian (let him go), with various shades of grey in between. Writer Jessica Bellamy has done a great job of charting the individual journeys (and backstories) of all the characters, and director Sarah Parsons and the young cast have brought them vividly to life. There’s a whiff of Lord of the Flies about the piece, which is duly recognised. One of the characters, the sociopathic Joel (Samuel Hill-Wade) is a dead ringer for Jack from that book. (Watching it, I wondered a little how the dynamics of the piece would have been changed if the sociopath was female. Both of the ‘bleeding heart’ characters in this piece were girls, and it made me wonder what would have happened if this was inverted.) The brutal politics of teenagers are also very aptly observed: the cliques, the romances, the alliances, and the ostracisations.

The only nitpick I have with this play is that it was a little hard to tell initially just what had happened to the kids’ teacher, Mr Finchley. It turns out that they got separated from him, but I was left wondering for a while a) just why these kids were camping out in the wilderness, and b) if something had happened to their teacher, why they weren’t more worried about it. But overall, this is a really great piece of kids’ theatre. It raises tough questions and refuses to provide easy answers, while also being at times both very funny and deeply chilling. (The scene where the stranger first appears is genuinely scary!) Compass is both provocative and amusing – and deeply evocative, if you’ve ever suffered through a school camp before. Highly recommended.

Australian Theatre for Young People presents
by Jessica Bellamy

Directed by Sarah Parsons

Venue: atyp 1, Pier 4/5, Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay
Dates: 16 – 26 October 2013
Tickets: $15 groups of four or more, $20 concession, $25 full
Duration: 60 mins (no interval)

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