Loaded: A Double Bill of New Plays | Black Swan State Theatre CompanyLeft – Lincoln Vickery, Hoa Xuande (Tonsils + Tweezers). Cover – Stephanie Panozzo, Jessica Paterson, Shalom Brune-Franklin, Brittany Morel (Girl Shut Your Mouth). Photos – Daniel James Grant

Two distinct plays by emerging playwrights, auguring well for the healthy development of Perth’s local theatre scene. Noticing similarities and differences between the two pieces is inevitable and difficult to ignore, but each stands strongly on its own merits, dealing with contemporary issues close to the hearts of many young people.

Girl Shut Your Mouth by Gita Bezard

Brilliant acting brings the highly excitable world of teenage girls to the stage

Four girlfriends meeting together in Katie’s bedroom are full of chatter and packing and anticipation of the trip Katie and her mother are about to take, but their gossip and shared memories reveal a dark side to this world they are leaving – girls keep getting killed. Katie herself has been shot while they were studying together, the bullet lodged next to her spinal cord a ticket to a bright new land where she will be safe. A pattern of fear and rules and funerals becomes too much for Grace and Mia, who decide to seek out bullets of their own to go with Katie when she leaves. Darcy has been through her own trouble with an acid attack, but still prefers to stay put, to be part of rebuilding this unspecified place once the troubles are over.

The team of four actors work well together, the ensemble clearly portraying individual characters and their changing social interactions as events unfold. The depiction of threatening male characters is starkly challenging, the teenage characters turning traumatic memories into a game and brutally synchronised lines from the shadows telling us all we need to know about Mia’s encounter with the mysterious “Walter”.

Jessica Paterson brings Katie Henderson to socially confident, self-aware life. Her endless stream of chatter is markedly contrasted with her unshared memories of the attack, her bitchy put-downs a defence against doubt. As Grace, Shalom Brune-Franklin shines as the peacemaker of the group, with her character’s vivid enthusiasm for an imagined better life creating an inspirational scene. Brune-Franklin’s facial and physical control makes the tension and tragedy of the penultimate scene resonate strongly, with demanding acting, superbly executed.

Stephanie Panozzo’s Mia is dramatic and flamboyant, the character’s life full of melodrama, imagination and flair, but Panozzo’s restraint in performance proves that she has not been cast to over-acting type. Panozzo brings several aspects of Mia to the stage, provoking a range of responses in the audience. Darcy, played by Brittany Morel, is a restrained character, a voice of caution and moderation. Morel brings the character of the girl before the events that lead to her ostracism in a flashback, the sharp contrast between the vivacious girl and the withdrawn young woman a difficult portrait.

Mark Howett’s simple but strong lighting design complements the sense of foreboding and threat in the script and performance. Costuming by Lawrie Cullen-Tait is versatile and emphasises the universal playful teen nature of the characters, making cultural references while avoiding one-dimensional stereotyping. Director Jeffrey Jay Fowler explores the nuances of Gita Bezard’s strongly conceived script, considering all aspects of the tragedy of the situation and events.

Tonsils + Tweezers by Will O’Mahony

Clever script brings mounting tension with dark psychological revelations and bursts of strategic humour

Despite defying Chekhov’s wisdom about guns on stage, writer and director Will O’Mahony keeps the action tight and tense with revelations about past happenings and their impacts on characters in the present in a production that considers the long-term consequences of schoolyard bullying.

Tonsils is our cheerful narrator, clad in jaunty boxer shorts, interacting with the audience and his best friend, Lewis. They have been friends since the start of high school, when neither of them found any other friends. The nature of their friendship has changed over time, and Tonsils is worried by his friend’s thoughts and demands. With the 10-year high school reunion approaching, Lewis seems intent on dark revenge for past injustices. A chance encounter with one of the bullies, Max, helps to explain some of Lewis’ grievances and possibly clears some air. Beth is a cheerful soul who turns up on stage from time to time to assist with explanations and to set scenes.

Hoa Xuande as Lewis, aka Tweezers, carries the dark brooding nature of his character with disturbing good humour. His quick denials of problems belie his increasingly twisted thoughts, all of which Xuande conveys naturally and light-heartedly. Lincoln Vickery plays the tolerant Tonsils, keeping the interactions and relationships between the two characters close but ambiguous. Even Lewis’ determined ironing of Tonsil’s body is carried well by the pair, despite the sudden surreal twist in action that it introduces. Adam SollisMax is a nervous actor, who delivers his foreshadowing lines from Macbeth with intense deliberation and happy timing with the other action on stage. Sollis brings further dimensions to a school bully who has grown up to notice more than expected, in the circumstances. Beth is a character of fragments, nearly a token female presence in the script, but Megan Wilding brings her to the stage as a force in her own right. Observations of other characters, recital of key lines on request and a confident am-dram actor of Lady Macbeth, Wilding fills out what could be relegated to a series of bits to a dynamic aspect of the performance.

The cleverly constructed script scatters hints through the dialogue and flashbacks to allow audience members to piece together the truth about Tonsils and Lewis in their own time. The actors all deal well with densely-written dialogue, full of digressions about binary star systems, Macbeth, reminiscences about school events and frantic evasions of what they are doing these days. Cullen-Tait’s simple set design is versatile enough to allow scenes to flow without encumbering the storyline with too many details, and her costumes provide well-chosen clues to the hidden true story.

Between these two plays, introducing new talent to Black Swan State Theatre Company audiences with fresh ideas presented to the company’s high standards, the development of local drama seems in safe hands.

Black Swan State Theatre Company presents
Loaded: A Double Bill of New Plays

Girl Shut Your Mouth by Gita Bezard, directed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler
Tonsils + Tweezers written and directed by Will O'Mahony

Venue: Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA
Dates: 14 Jan – 7 February 2016
Bookings: ticketek.com.au | 1300 795 012

Part of Fringe World Festival 2016

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