BWW Review: SEVENTEEN at Little Theatre, University Of Adelaide

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BWW Review: SEVENTEEN at Little Theatre, University Of AdelaideReviewed by Barry Lenny, Saturday 12th October 2019.

Matthew Chapman and Angela Short have co-directed Matthew Whittet's play, Seventeen, in which adults take on the roles of teenagers who are at a major transition point in their lives. It was originally written for a group of septuagenarians to perform at Belvoir Street Theatre in Sydney, in 2015. The cast here is somewhat younger, but that is unimportant to the effectiveness of the play.

The script covers so many ideas, perhaps too many, necessitating numerous, and what often seem rather contrived exits and entrances. Chapman and Short, and their cast, have done well in coping with this, particularly within the Little Theatre, which has its own challenges with the logistics of getting on and off the stage area.

Five teenagers, Mike, Sue, Tom, Edwina, and Ronny, are celebrating in a park in the evening after their final day of school. It is a rite of passage that we all go through and represents a dramatic change in our lives. For years, five days a week, we knew where we had to be, at what time, and what we were expected to do. Our lives had been given structure by our schools under the system of compulsory education. Suddenly, we are entirely responsible for our own lives. This is, probably, the most profound change that we will face in our lives. This gradually dawns on these five as they begin to realise the enormity of their situation, having a sobering effect on their celebration of the end of that phase of their existence.

Mike, A. J. Bartley, is the leader of the group, and he and his best friend since the start of high school, Tom, Lindsay Dunn, are as alike as chalk and cheese. Tom is quiet, sensitive, and a very good student, and Mike is controlling, a bully, and is fully prepared to find that he has failed every subject when the results are announced. Tom has his future planned, and Mike is not yet ready to move on into adulthood.

Also in the group are Mike's girlfriend, Sue, Lindy LeCornu, and her friend, Edwina, Kate Anolak. Edwina is academically gifted, conservative, and planning to go to University, and Sue seems a most unlikely person to be with Mike.

Ronny, Jack Robins, is the outsider in their class who turns up by chance, uninvited to their celebration, and whom Mike immediately wants to exclude, but Tom feels sorry for him and welcomes him to join them. Ronny is aware that he is not really wanted, but is grateful that he is permitted to join in, albeit on the periphery of the celebrations.

Mike's annoying younger sister, Lizzie, Rebecca Kemp, also wants to party with the older five whom she has known for years through association, and she refuses to follow Mike's directions to go home, She, like Ronny, is an outsider whose presence is tolerated and who, as time passes, shows more empathy and understanding than her brother.

There is much wit and humour in the early part of the production as they drink, Edwina considerably too much, laugh, joke, and enjoy the thought that they will never have to go back to school again. They have some mixed emotions, though, in large part because Tom is moving interstate in two weeks to go to university. Mike is particularly unhappy at losing his long-time best friend, and they are all affected as they are fond of Tom. As the evening progresses, they become more serious about their futures and the changes brought by the end of their time at high school. They all have secrets, too, some embarrassing, some profound, and revelations create sadness, anger, and regrets, with relationships being revaluated and changed, as the laughter gives way to many poignant moments. Nothing will be the same again.

The cast of six perform as an ensemble, as well as in twos and threes, throughout the play, giving considerable variation, every change adding to our understanding of these diverse characters. The cohesion in the group begins to weaken and we realise that it was the enforced togetherness of the classroom that had a lot to do with holding them together. Already, the removal of that imperative can be felt.

Each of the performers creates a fully rounded and believable character, and we can all relate in some degree to each of them. Their interactions, in intimate scenes and as an ensemble, display a wide range of emotions and power plays, as well as a few mind games. It would be unfair to single out any of this strong and talented cast as they all make an equally important and effective contribution.

The well-paced direction and strong, committed performances make this production one more winner for the Guild as they end another year of serving consistently fine theatre to Adelaide audiences.

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From This Author Barry Lenny