Promis­ing play ex­plores teen sui­cide

The Tribune (NZ) - - CONVERSATIONS - RICHARD MAYS

RE­VIEW

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.

PHOTO: WAR­WICK SMITH/STUFF

Ac­tors Mal­lory Macken­zie (left) and Anna Sul­li­van dur­ing a drama class al­ter­ca­tion in Skin Theatre’s pro­duc­tion of ‘‘The Ex­per­i­ment’’.

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