Human politics well played

19 May 2023

Two standalone works make for a satisfying double bill about the ups and downs of adolescence, ably presented by WAAPA’s acting students, writes Claire Trolio.

The Wolves and Fatherland, WAAPA third year Acting students
Enright Studio, 18 May 2023

What is it about teenage dramas that are so appealing to watch? Is it the heightened emotions that invariably bubble over or the sense of flux and change that this season of life brings? Is it the familiarity it offers the audience? Is it that balance of personal (bodies transforming, the dynamics of friendship, making life-altering decisions) with a new understanding of the vastness of the world and how one impacts the other?

Sarah DeLappe’s 2016 work The Wolves, which chronicles an all-female, high school soccer team in middle America, makes a good case for the latter. This work builds a space to talk about bodies and body image, sex and sexuality, contraception and abortion alongside genocide, feminism and migration. It’s personal, it’s political and it’s a cracker of a script.

It’s taken on by third year Acting students at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts under the tight direction of visiting artist Anna Houston. In WAAPA’s Enright Studio, the action takes place before a series of successive games of an indoor soccer season, amidst warm-ups and drill practice.

The cast of ‘The Wolves’ nail the physicality of the work. Photo: Stephen Heath.

DeLappe’s script offers nine lead roles. There are no supporting parts. Fast paced dialogue is an apt representation of teenage chatter and the writing masterfully weaves splinter conversations between a couple of players in and out of larger, group ones. It’s beautifully chaotic, but never confusing.

The whole ensemble are fabulous on stage, so it almost seems unfair to single out any individual actors. But the depth Ruby Henaway gives to her cool girl character is sensational and Aida Bernhardt balances innocence and worldliness in her new girl #46 for a particularly memorable performance.

Not only do they all nail pace and delivery, but they do so whilst incorporating the physicality that the context provides. They don’t skip a beat when coordinating synchronised warm-ups and choreographed ball drills.

This physicality is mirrored in Fatherland, performed in the same space later in the evening, by another cohort of third year Acting students under visiting director Shane Anthony. The performers – again it’s a group of nine – are light on their feet, weaving stories with the use of movement and physical theatre, relying on chairs, tables and one another to create a strong visual flow underneath melodic dialogue.

Bec Simpkins’ set is cleverly adaptable to both pieces. Open enough to accommodate a myriad of voices but with a sense of closeness that conveys an indoor setting. It also allows for a few simple props that assist the physical theatre elements of Fatherland, in particular.

While The Wolves is unapologetically centred around women and the forces that shape them, Fatherland is similarly preoccupied with fathers and sons. Created by UK theatre company Frantic Assembly, Fatherland sees three theatre makers return to their hometowns to interview subjects about their fathers and their experiences of being fathers.

It’s verbatim metatheatre that illuminates the blurred lines between truth and fiction. As Luke, an interviewee who calls into question the ethics of editing and sculpting responses in order to create a show, Harry Gilchrist offers volatility as a slow boil before erupting. His words dance, best partnered with the consistently poised Donne Ngabo as one of the theatre makers named Simon. Alex Kirwin embraces one of the meatier roles of Daniel, who doesn’t overplay the character’s mental ill-health.

Men in ‘Fatherland’ explore the bond between fathers and sons. Photo: Stephen Heath

Both plays challenge the actors to perform accents. While the cast of The Wolves pull off the voice work without a hitch, the Northern English and Midlands accents prove too difficult for some performers in Fatherland. Shortcomings here are made up for though, with otherwise dependable performances.

Fatherland presents the clichéd (yet real) bonds between fathers and sons that are based around sports and drinking culture. But this is contrasted with memories of a gentler fatherhood, of physical touch: being thrown up in the air and caught again, falling asleep curled up on a lap and playing music. In different ways, Fatherland tries to unpick the hold that the father-son dynamic has over the adult son.

Both works scrutinise power dynamics, they search for a sense of self, are haunted by absence and dabble in intergenerational healing. Whilst they’re standalone works, the synchronicities between the two allow for a very satisfying double bill.

Pictured top: A scene from ‘Fatherland’. Photo: Stephen Heath.

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Author —
Claire Trolio

Claire Trolio completed a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) and a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) at UWA. She writes about Western Australia for various digital and print media and owns a shop with her sister. For her, the spider swing is the ultimate in playground fun.

Past Articles

  • Gentle touch guides lunar landing 

    Balancing weight with whimsy, this children’s theatre work strikes the right chord for its target audience, writes Claire Trolio.

  • Next-gen theatre makers impress

    From the fresh and funny to the weird and wonderful, WAAPA’s Performance Making students bring fresh, incisive work at full tilt, writes Claire Trolio.

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