The Trolleys, written by Sara West, is an unusual script. Written specifically for a young cast, but offering challenging themes against a dystopian backdrop, it is neither the stuff of crowd-pleasing youth theatre or the kind of edgy show used to break up a repertory season.
It is somewhat of a gamble, then, for Playlovers to be offering The Trolleys as part of its season this year, given its adolescent cast. The audience on the night was clearly a supportive one – families and friends of the young people involved – and this led me to wonder whether the season could get the patronage to make it sustainable.
The Trolleys are a gang of six young people trying to survive on the outskirts of desolate city, led by the severe and controlling Savage Kim (Sarah-Rose Kelly). Each relies on their ‘light jars’ to survive – a sort of measure of strength of spirit. But the lights are fading, and each fears their fate when the light runs out – being turned to dust by a strange omnipotent figure. To save the light, the gang must work out how to bring back the light, and determine whether a mysterious stranger, Lemon (Amy Evans), brings hope or a new source of threat.
Director Andie Holborn has considered the scale of the production carefully. By treating the performance with the design it deserves, she (along with Lighting Designer John Woolrych and Set Construction team Richard Ferreira and Gordon Barnett) have created a professional feel that heightens the intensity of the brilliant script, and brings out the best in the young actors. A re-purposed climbing gym creates a multi-dimensional platform for ‘Trolley Tower’, and clever additions such as the hanging jars of light provide a strong visual representation of the fading fortunes of the protagonists.
The direction itself was fairly polished – Holburn’s young cast were clearly responsive to her guidance, and in a challenging 75-minute one-act performance, barely missed a cue. A few devices failed to hit the mark – the incorporation of ballet movement didn’t quite create the sense of magic and menace required for the explosion of the ‘Dusters’, and some extraneous chorus activity detracted from the main intent and purpose of the performance. Other choices lacked seamlessness, made clearly apparent by the rest of the show’s high standard. However, the majority of the work was well-considered and constructed meaning purposefully for the audience – a particular achievement given the age range of the actors.
That being said, there are more than a few budding stars in this performance. Sarah-Rose Kelly held the snarling veneer of Savage Kim well, while Prea Cunningham served ably as the lazy intellectual Jones Boy. The chorus work by all six of the main characters would show up most adult performances – each actor was giving to their co-stars and avoided pulling focus. There were the kind of issues you tend to see in performances by young people – characterisation that angers too quickly, actors still mastering the art of ‘listening’, the odd forced or missed moment – but, overall, the cast carried the work with thought and respect, and committed fearlessly. Of particular note were George O’Doherty and Gemma Vu as Phlegm and Baby May respectively – both found a range and depth of characterisation that made their performances captivating. No doubt the entirety of the cast will learn and grow throughout the season, lending even greater weight to already good performances.
As a youth performance, The Trolleys is outstanding. But where does it stand as a piece of theatre? It is a brilliant script, beautifully designed, and ably acted. It is dark for a kid’s show, but this enables some important social comment, sprinkled with moments of genuine warmth and humour. It offers thematic wealth and complexity, while remaining highly accessible to audiences young and old. It remains an unusual choice for this kind of run, but that’s part of its charm. Ultimately, The Trolleys isn’t just a good youth performance – it’s a good performance, and it deserves to be seen.
Playlovers Theatre presents
by Sara West
Director Andie Holborn
Venue: Hacket Hall | Draper Street (off Underwood Avenue) Floreat WA
Dates: 20 – 28 May 2016
Tickets: $20 – $15