Promising play explores teen suicide
The Experiment by Skin Theatre Director Kelly Harris The Dark Room, Palmerston North Thursday November 26 - Saturday November 4
Using William Shakespeare’s
Romeo and Juliet to spark a contemporary conversation about suicide, is the starting point for this devised drama by Manawatu¯’s Skin Theatre.
Given the sensitivity surrounding suicide, the company’s exploration of the subject is courageous. It has created its own performance around a senior English class and its teacher-facilitated dissection of the famous tragedy.
Several members of the Skin Theatre ensemble are teachers, so the play with its classroom antics and teen preoccupations, is anchored in authenticity.
That Shakespeare’s protagonists end up taking their own lives provides the inspiration for Miss Lee, a young teacher played assuredly by Kristin Reilly, to get her not-all-that-terribly-motivated class to relate the play’s characters and situations to their own lives.
This involves class members performing scenes from the tragedy, and then re-imagining them in a contemporary way to try and circumvent the inevitability of the play’s outcome.
These may make interesting diversions, but of course, there is no way of altering the upshot. The central question remains ‘‘Is it really romantic to take your own life for love?’’
The message seems to be that listening and paying more attention to one another other could make the vital difference.
The Experiment is blessed with a strong cast of eight who play the multiple roles they have helped devise, which include several minor stereotypes that are in places slightly over-the-top.
There is a real strength though in Toby Lockhart as Rob who also plays Romeo. Jessica McLean who plays Rob’s withdrawn classmate Shelly, and delivers an accomplished and forthright Juliet, is also prominent.
However, it was difficult to reconcile her character’s initial timorous reading of Shakespeare’s play with her later confident delivery of his heroine.
There are other moments where it feels like a step or two has been missed.
Not without incidental humour, The Experiment becomes more and more thoughtprovoking as the teen characters open up, and when the consequences of Miss Lee’s classroom experiment strike home, there is real emotional impact.
Actors Mallory Mackenzie (left) and Anna Sullivan during a drama class altercation in Skin Theatre’s production of ‘‘The Experiment’’.