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Reviews/Theatre

Fresh, authentic theatre from Second Chance

12 November 2019

Review: Second Chance Theatre, ‘Playthings’ ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 8 November ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

The Blue Room Theatre has mounted a drive to raise $100,000 to convert one of its downstairs rooms into a tiny third theatre space. If you want to see what the Blue Room’s thirty years of fostering young talented writers, performers and creative can deliver, you can do no better than see Scott McArdle’s superb Playthings, presented by local outfit Second Chance Theatre.

It’s a rare joy to see such a complete, captivating play by an emerging writer/director. McArdle has been at it for a little while now, and had some success, notably with his Laika: a Radio Play in late 2017, but his is still a career taking first steps, and Playthings is a quantum leap for him.

Daniel Buckle’s Arnold has a gawky tenacity that is authentically lovable. Photo: David Cox Media.

The story of a pair of troubled high school kids, Lucy (Courtney Henri) and Arnold (Daniel Buckle), touches on many of the most difficult challenges facing young people – family breakdown, self-harm and depression, bullying, withdrawal – without being submerged by them.

That’s a singular achievement in itself, given the issues overload of much contemporary alternative theatre. It’s more impressive because of McArdle’s adept control of narrative and character, his gift for dialogue and ability to work humour and sharp-edged emotion into his text (I shamelessly laughed and cried).

He’s created four memorable characters; the grown-ups in the room are the kids’ teacher, Miss Richards (Siobhan Dow-Hall) and Lucy’s step-dad Rhys (St John Cowcher) – and they have well-developed issues of their own.

What emerges is a beautifully nuanced and completely believable story of a kind of mutually protective love, a bulwark against a threatening world.

Not that it’s all sweetness and light. Lucy, one of the most original and compelling characters to come from Perth theatre in yonks, is sharp – razor sharp– edged and often genuinely scary. She carries a blade, and leaves you in no doubt that she is quite prepared to use it.

Henri, a 2018 graduate of WAAPA’s performance-making course, brings her to life with a significant, utterly convincing performance of tender ferocity. You’ll be hearing more of her.

The whole cast is faultless; Buckle’s Arnold has a gawky tenacity that is authentically lovable, and Dow-Hall’s teacher carries a fearsome secret, the uncovering of which is one of the play’s most shredding moments.

Cowcher, an experienced, inventive actor of marvellous range and ability, is perfect as Lucy’s conflicted step-dad, struggling to influence situations beyond his power to control.

In fact, nearly everything about Playthings is perfect, from Sara Chirichilli’s subtly-segmented set that creates much more work space than the Blue Room’s little stage actually has, to Rebecca Riggs-Bennett’s fine sound design, George Ashforth’s video design and McArdle’s own lighting plot.

But what impressed me most, and gave me most pleasure, was to see the green shoots of Perth theatre thriving once again in another generation of artists nurtured by the Blue Room.

If it has KPIs, then Playthings ticks them all off – fresh, of serious intent, young people telling authentic stories about young people – in the best tradition of theatre.

When you see it – and I hope you will – why not make a contribution to help the Blue Room expand the vital work it does for the life of this town?

You’ll be doing yourself a favour.

Playthings runs until 23 November 2019.

UPDATE: A second season in collaboration with Black Swan State Theatre Centre will run 29 April – 8 May 2021.

Pictured top: Courtney Henri as Lucy and Daniel Buckle as Arnold. Photo: David Cox Media.

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

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