Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Truck Stop

Photo by Amanda James

The Q Theatre Company, Penrith, presents TRUCK STOP by Lachlan Philpott in the Reginald Theatre, at the Seymour Centre.

TRUCK STOP by Lachlan Philpott was commissioned by the Q Theatre Company, Penrith, and the play is inspired by an incident that occurred at a NSW high school.

Katrina Douglas, the producer for the Q Theatre Company and Director of this production:
"While the initial incident that inspired the play did not occur in Western Sydney, TRUCK STOP is very much a Penrith story. Working with a dramaturge Francesca Smith and myself, Lachlan researched and developed TRUCK STOP over a ten month period in collaboration with the Penrith and Blue Mountains communities. He combined his intimate knowledge of school communities (an ex-school teacher and theatre educator) with material gained from in-depth interviews with school students, truck drivers, social workers and sexual health workers." 
In addition the actors of this first production have been involved with the evolution of the text and were part of the community interaction with the generation target of the characters, and have had close opportunity to observe and learn from young women of the age that this story tells about. There is then, an authenticity to the language, social behaviour, 'tribal' cultural rules and taboos, resonating throughout this very, very confronting, but real world and story, seemingly, supported by striking insights of the first hand kind.

The world of TRUCK STOP is set mostly within the confines of the day-to-day survival of two contemporary 14 year-old girls. It is as strange as it is arresting. Arresting as it is frightening. Frightening as it is challenging. Challenging as it is disturbing.

The world of these young girl/women reflects a culture where the family unit has all but disappeared into dysfunctional apathy and substituted by the careless provision, by disinterested, catastrophically 'injured' parents, to access to a new media-world of fast Internet, FaceBook, Google etc, that reveals a fanciful virtual world of other possibilities of life aspirations for these young unformed but developing women. This commercial world of profit of the Internet becomes, in substitution of parental and school care, the voice of guiding principles, and formulating influences for the shaping of these girls' lives. That it is shallow and fueled by profit through the flaunting of the base drive of sexual mores is more than evident to all, but, to these, relatively young innocents, who only see the fun of the instant- present gratification on acting on impulse with no sense at all of consequence.

The play begins with a described 'brawl' between Sam and Kelly, two, former best friends, the protagonists of the play, in the playground - a consequence of the truck stop behaviour. We quickly follow Sam into a counselling session with a psychiatrist/social worker - a consequence of truck stop behaviour. Later, we follow Kelly into a waiting room with a nurse awaiting the results of a test for sexually transmitted diseases - a consequence of truck stop behaviour. The real world of human 'wiring' both psychological and physical, giving these two young girls a reality check about the consequence of their elected lifestyle - Internet social connections (!) and adventure at the truck stop.

The depth of preparation by this artistic team is extremely evident. The three young actors give frighteningly believable performances: Eryn Jean Norvill as Sam, the 'really angry' girl; Jessica Tovey as Kelly, the 'disaffected girl' and Sam's best friend; and Kristy Best as Aisha, a newcomer, not only to bonding with these girls, but also as a recent immigrant from Bangladesh, to this 'Austrayian' cultural milieu - a voyager on a journey as strange to her as it is to some of us, perhaps - a whole new territory, world of behaviour. Elena Carapetis, deftly and with great subtlety captures, iconically, all of the other characters, both female and male, across a wide generation age gap, convincingly and apparently, effortlessly. The Set Design by Michael Hankin, is both wonderfully practical and metaphoric, a concrete, and a detailed weed infested, play area, fenced in, protected, by metallic school outdoor seating. Lit well by Chris Page and backed by an active background of Video images by Sean Bacon, the locations of the story shift easily and unobtrusively. The Direction by Katrina Douglas, impassioned and controlled. All elements become an impressive whole.

Mr Philpott, following on from COLDERand SILENT DISCO has, once again, from verbatim conversations and interview, captured the vernacular argot and rhythms of the chosen, focused cultural world of TRUCK STOP, and mastered that prose into poetic idioms of astringent beauty and a convincing naturalism, all at once - the text, musically structured, to be in solo, and duet or choral expressions. The now, familiar form of Mr Philpott's writing, combining novelistic descriptions of feelings, given directly to the audience by the characters, as well as breaking back and forth into interactive verbal exchanges between the protagonists, draws one, unconsciously, deeper and deeper into the lives and motivations of the girls. It is interesting, perhaps, to feel the extended development of the style that Eugene O"Neill was exploring in his original Pulitzer Prize winning STRANGE INTERLUDE (1928), that of the utterance of the characters inward thoughts alongside the actual words they address to each other,which we did not see really work in the Simon Stone version, either in the writing or the directing of the acting, at Belvoir, earlier this month.

I saw this work at a matinee with young high school students - both sexes. All of this audience, slightly older than the 14 year old's portrayed, and, mostly, of a different specific of contemporary cultural background. It seemed to me they were entranced and pole-axed into a kind of shock to see this world so nakedly captured, live, in a theatre space. Their response was one of 'held breaths' and paralysed anxiety - still, and concentrated. They laughed, occasionally, mostly, out of a tension relief. In a Question-and-Answer session afterwards the audience was admiring of the actors (surprised that they were nearly twice as old as the actual characters - so believable they were !) but also astonished at the accuracy of the observation. They all knew these "girls" but none had ever been them. In fact, they advised, that neither the "Sam's" or "Kelly's" would ever come near a theatre ("too boring"), and if they did, would, narcissistic-ally enjoy and approve the behaviour captured. Noisily applaud it - they warned. I thought, then, (still do) that perhaps the fate of Kelly and her STD test may have been too soft, even, if the result is statistically correct, the more theatrical choice would have given more pause, weight. I, also, felt the core journey for Aisha was not completely satisfactorily dealt with, and, too neatly shunted to an easy conclusion. Certainly, it may have the possibility of a whole other play, just for itself ?

TRUCK STOP is a very interesting and signifying work. It is a powerful searchlight into some 'lane ways' of our society. Rarely engaged in so 'full on', especially with the transgressors, being, of the female gender - (THE BOYS?) - and so even more immensely challenging. The Q Theatre ought to be congratulated for taking it on and bringing it into a limelight. The Seymour Theatre Production arm for bringing it into Sydney for more 'airing'. The schools who brought the young audience to the theatre, should also be highly respected, for what seems to me, to be a valuable experience for the audience I saw it with, both, sociologically and, of course, theatrically. The film PRECIOUS had similar shocks and difficult truths to absorb - both works, a catalyst for young people's discussion, growing up in a world of such fast moving, shifting values? Without a modern and stable role model, in our temporal (Federal Parliament, of late) or 'spiritual' worlds (the Vatican, too, of late), how and where do they find leadership and guidance that the young will trust and take heed of? It is alarming for some of us to feel the twinge of a recognition in our present, that we have again marks of a period of time, when there is no sense of an assured future for our heirs. Voltaire warned us "History never repeats itself - Man always does". TRUCK STOP offers in the consideration of its tawdry world, some means to openly grapple with the dilemma of the Internet Culture substituting for parental and school leadership.


Thanks Mr Philpott.

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