When Director, Peter Houghton, introduced The Boy at the Edge of Everything at the MTC’s Season 2015 Launch Presentation, he had this to say:
“A young boy Simon dreaming of space, wishing he had some space, wishing he was in space or getting some space between himself and his overscheduled life between his helicopter parents and his irritating brother. And his wish comes true. What happens next is part odyssey, part science-fiction and all comedy.”
Pitched as a family show for ages 8 – 14, in the MTC’s school holiday season, it’s in keeping with the Company’s vision and artistic purpose whereby a production aims to “entertain, challenge and enrich audiences.”
Playwright, Finegan Kruckemeyer “is committed to making strong and respectful work for children, and acknowledges them as astute audience members outside the plays and worthy subjects within.”
I met recently with cast member Emily Goddard, who wholeheartedly agrees. “Absolutely. At no point does it dumb itself down or patronise. It’s really acknowledging them as equals. Asking them to come along with us on a story about themselves and accept it. The work is so rich. Finegan evokes very clearly childhood quirks, memories and experiences. The story is told in vignettes; sometimes obscure but always very detailed vignettes. I think the charm of the show lies in the beauty of the characters – trying to make their way in an overcrowded world. When Simon meets the Boy at the Edge of Everything we witness how they navigate that friendship, literally, from different sides of the universe, it’s really beautiful. It’s sweet and it’s very funny.”
The big idea that the work explores (and why it’s so relevant to audiences) is how we overcrowd our lives. As Emily re-iterates, “we do a ridiculous amount and don’t give ourselves the time to breathe.”
As Peter earlier explained, “it’s an antidote to the in your face presence of screens, cars, appointments…it’s a dramatic reflection.”
And that’s what initially drew Emily to it. “I really responded to that. That this 12 year old boy recognises that it’s not necessarily a great thing to be filling each moment of our day.” That, and the prospect of collaborating with Peter, whom she regards as “incredible as a director and incredible because of his intuition and comedic talents. He’s hilarious, both with his characterisations and his stories. When we’re in rehearsals, he uses humour as a tool to relax everybody, to make them feel safe and give them a voice so they feel comfortable about contributing. The comedy is reliant on timing. It needs to come from our own inventiveness … and the language has a natural rhythm to it, it’s lyrical.”
Emily plays three characters – Chloe, Ms. Chester & Helen Ives (Simon’s Mum). Chloe’s a 12 year old girl, who’s dealing with the pain of having her first crush (and it’s not necessarily requited). Ms Chester, Simon’s Year 7 Science Teacher, is the one that inspires him to think about the ever-expanding universe around us; and Mum who’s well meaning, manic & (unintentionally) insensitive at times.
They’re all very human, flawed and funny. Void of stereotypes – indicative again of Finegan’s respect for his young audience(s).
Compelled by theatre, Emily adds, “there’s no other medium like it. Theatre is meant to stretch them – to inform them. I think it’s about a conversation with the audience; they become the next character and are invited in. It’s fleeting – different every night and just so personal. It’s about a conversation in the moment and also about those conversations that carry on after you leave the theatre. The ideas and discussions that it prompts, what a remarkable tool for society, for mirroring reality and igniting ideas. And it gives us the time to do so.”
When asked what impact she thinks it will leave, she replies “for some it may be their first experience of live theatre and I hope that it will not only entertain but inspire them, make them think about their own lives and possibly even ponder where we fit in – in the grand scheme of things.”
As the story unfolds and as the friendship develops it’s as much about befriending yourself as it is with somebody else. The realisation comes when Simon finds the grass isn’t necessarily greener – it’s about gaining perspective.
It’s confronting and yet liberating.
The fact that Finegan is Australia’s most successful playwright by his number of productions (71 to date), coupled with the fact that his plays have been performed in 5 languages on 5 continents, only reinforces the ideal that when children are asked to invest emotionally and find new meanings they will be duly rewarded.
Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of The Boy at the Edge of Everything opens Thursday 24 September at Southbank Theatre. Further details»