Though it doesn’t answer all the questions it raises about drinking culture, My Shout is encouraging debut theatre production from a capable team.
My Shout, Undercurrent Theatre Company
The Blue Room Theatre, 1 September 2021
There’s no denying that alcohol plays a significant role within white Australian culture.
For those of us who grow up in that culture, it’s insidious, creeping into our lives from a young age so that when we become adults (or even teenagers) there’s an expectation that booze is involved in social gatherings, whether it’s amongst friends, within families, or even between strangers.
As problematic as it is, a drink in your hand acts as passport, allowing you to be social, affording you the currency to connect with others. That drinking culture forms the basis of My Shout, a new work from a relatively new local collective, Undercurrent Theatre Company.
Four friends in their 20s meet at the pub. There’s Clare and Scarlett, played by Undercurrent co-founders Claire Appleby and Scarlet Davis respectively, alongside Sean (Shaun Johnston) and Kris (Christopher Moro). The four young cast members are also the play’s devisers, in conjunction with the other half of Undercurrent: Samuel Gordon Bruce, who also directs the piece and David Stewart, who performs his sound design live on stage, much to the audience’s delight.
They debate which beer brand is superior, watch the footy, sing and dance. I’ve been to this pub and you probably have too, me in my undergraduate days getting to know new friends over jugs of beer. (Good foundations were laid, they’re still my friends today.)
My Shout took me back to those days. The cast’s poetic musings conveyed a sense of immortality and abandon, and the feeling that any night could be the best night of your life. Of course, it’s not all fun and games; alcohol as a social currency is also hugely damaging within society. There’s its impact on domestic and other violence, and mental and physical health, just for a start.
The team do attempt to critique drinking culture, particularly through one character, who abstains from alcohol and sees her friends in a new light. But I didn’t get the sense that they were convinced of their own critique, almost as if in devising the show, the team knew it was problematic but hadn’t quite figured out why. The work is up-front about coming from a place of personal reflection; perhaps these performers don’t yet have the distance to critique this culture fully.
That is not to say that young people don’t have authority to challenge the world in which they live, or that you can’t critique something from within. In fact I feel very strongly that they do and you can.
So what is the problem for me here?
It’s that the work makes the suggestion that we shouldn’t need alcohol to socialise, without delving deeply enough into why we do.
This is surprising considering that, in his director’s notes, Bruce discusses the personal angle of a man in his 30s overhauling his own relationship with alcohol. I think this work would benefit from more of Bruce’s perspective intertwined with that of the devisers’.
Where My Shout really connects, however, is through the use of movement and physical theatre.
Matt Raven’s set consists of a long bar table and some stools in front of a wall filled with bottles and pint glasses, and each element is used in some mesmerising choreography. Under direction from Bruce and Movement Consultant Emma Fishwick, the cast utilise the space’s height as well as depth and width with vigour. I loved how movement-heavy My Shout was; each performer has considerable talent in this area, particularly Johnston.
My Shout is an encouraging debut from a clever and capable team, which raises some important ideas, even if it doesn’t go all the way to answering them.
Pictured top (L-R): Claire Appleby, Scarlet Davis, Shaun Johnston, Christopher Moro. Photo: Kaifu Studios
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