LA BOITE THEATRE, KELVIN GROVE
You know somethings working when you’re still thinking about it the next day.
La Boite’s 20th anniversary revival of Nick Enright’s gripping seaside drama certainly is a show that leaves its powerful mark on the audience well past the dimmed lights and stunned applause.
Featuring a cast of mainly third-year QUT students who emote the sh*t out of this work, the play looks at how the lives of the young people and their parents, living in the idyllic coastal town of Blackrock, are altered by the brutal rape and murder of 15-year-old Tracey (Annabel Harte) at Toby’s (Tom Cossettini) incoherently drunken 18th birthday party.
The speed and the energy does tend to feel we’re just skimming the surface of the story however there were also moments of deep honesty about being young, lost and afraid.
Like when late in the show, the central character, working-class teen Jared (Ryan Hodson) has a heated and violent exchange with his upper-class girlfriend Rachel (Jessica Potts) who is Toby’s younger sister. The two then passionately and consensually kiss. But overcome with emotional pain, confusion and regret Jared quickly and aggressively wants to take it further, despite Rachel’s repeated and vocal ‘no’.
Kudos to director Todd MacDonald whose captured an experience that would ring painfully true to nearly every woman. Men, boys, especially those steeped in toxic Aussie male culture, often don’t understand women’s sexuality and can’t distinguish desire from consent. Or maybe just don’t want to.
Another moment, earlier in the show, Tiffany (Bianca Saul), the ill-used girlfriend of Jared’s mentor, the newly-returned misogynist bad-boy, Rico (Karl Stuifzand), is pelted with the donuts she’d brought for him. It’s not the last in a string of desperate and humiliating moments between Tiffany and Rico. Again, most women can relate to the desire for a man’s love at any cost when you’re young.
Even Jared’s single-mum, Diane, soulfully played with quiet dignity by Christen O’Leary, remarks that her body has always been what’s mattered, not her brain.
In stark contrast is Todd’s cultured mum Glenys (Amy Ingram), who’s few scenes show she’s no-one’s doormat and is the one that demands the entire family unite and support Toby after he’s charged with the rape. And it’s Rachel that stands up to her and for Tracey. These two ‘entitled’ women are the only females who show confidence and agency.
Yet for all the good intentions, angsty drama and committed performances, there’s still a stark omission in the show that left me disappointed. Where was Tracey and her mum?
Tracey doesn’t speak. We briefly see her provocatively and naively enjoying herself at the party and we hear about her mum from other characters but we don’t meet them, we don’t know them or what they’re thinking and feeling so our sympathies are naturally and somewhat unfortunately with the Jared, Toby and even Rico, as the boys all grapple with their part in the tragedy.
Twenty years on, it’s not references to ‘letter writing’ that made this work feel out of time, it was this use of the male lens to tell a deeply female story that let it down.
Nevertheless this work deserves its place among the great Australian teenage coming-of-age stories and the paired-down, in-the-round production really let’s its cast shine.
Words by Irena B
Images supplied by Dylan Lewis
Black Rock is now on at La Boite until August 12.
Tickets available via https://laboite.com.au/