ATYP Studio Theatre, September 3
A potential consequence of writing a play with an up-front purpose, and based on extensive research and workshops, is that it may be true to its intentions, but lose sight of itself as a work of theatre. Sugarland was penned Rachael Coopes with Wayne Blair after they spent time researching the lives of teenagers in Katherine in the Northern Territory. Ultimately emerging from a troubling picture is an affirmative tale of bonding, while a gripping play materialises from deeply flawed beginnings.
The characters are real and raw and hurting. Self-harm is prevalent and takes many guises. Its most disturbing form is a game of choking each other for kicks. The enactment of this by Jimmy (Hunter Page-Lochard) and Erica (Elena Foreman) makes for confronting theatre.
The cast, completed by Narek Arman, Michael Cameron, Dubs Yunupingu and Coopes, herself ( as a harried social worker), is universally strong, with Foreman notable as the moody Erica. The characters they play are well defined with their brick-wall problems into which they keep running, and are essentially likeable in their humour and resilience. The dialogue rings true, although for all its authenticity the expletive-laden inarticulateness, when combined with some early mumbling in the acting, can wear. The device of a singing contest, however, is adroitly used (highlighting Yunupingu’s exquisite voice) and the almost-happy ending is beautifully underplayed.
ITAL Sugarland ITAL has a warm heart that beats robustly through these characters, and has been empathetically directed by the tag-team of debutant David Page (from Bangarra Dance Theatre) and Fraser Corfield on Jacob Nash’s cunningly modular set.
The problem lies with the set-up. The first third of the play is as sluggish as a choked river, as if the writers assume we will be slow to assimilate what we are witnessing. Thankfully these flaws are outweighed by an ability to illuminate how similarities between blacks and whites eclipse differences. This is theatre as a moral force, and is to be commended.
Until September 13.