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A middle-aged view of adolescence

Fringe World review: Seventeen by Turquoise Theatre ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 7 February ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

Wednesday evening saw me catch two shows in quick succession. James Berlyn’s yourseven, a one-on-one, interactive work performed by WA Youth Theatre Company, was first at 8pm. I then cantered lightly from PICA to the Blue Room Theatre to see Turquoise Theatre’s Seventeen, a work in which actors over 60 play 17 year olds. I was both charmed and moved by the artistry, sensitivity and maturity demonstrated by the young performers of yourseven, and took my seat for Seventeen immersed in that post-show glow.

The premise of Seventeen, by Australian playwright Matthew Whittet, is promising. Six teenagers celebrate the end of high school in a traditional way, sneaking to the park to hang out with friends and get pissed. The twist, as aforementioned, is that the characters are played by actors old enough to be their grandparents, a recipe, I imagined in advance, for both interrogating assumptions about both generations and a whole heap of comedy.

The opening is strong – heads bowed, thumbs flying over invisible phones, the six characters are clumped together, a flock that shuffles and turns as one. Once the script kicks in, however, it becomes apparent that this evocative piece of movement is not a portent of things to come.

Having just watched eight exceptional young people perform, the portrayal of teenagers in Seventeen made me cringe. As a former high school teacher (and a former teenager!) and an aunt/surrogate aunt to a number of over-12s, I’m familiar with adolescence in its varied forms. While I recognised some of the typical teen traits in Whittet’s characters – self-absorption, insecurity, moodiness – they seemed like cardboard cut-outs, stereotypes. Feeling my lovely post-yourseven glow rapidly fading, I felt affronted on behalf of the young people in that cast and on behalf of all teenagers. Is this really how Whittet (who is in his early 40s, like me) sees young people?

It should be mentioned that the cast of six (I could not find any record of their names online and there was no program) come from a community, rather than professional, theatre background and are to be commended for their gutsy and often comical performances. The script gives little to work with in terms of character development as the friends (with the exception of Ronnie, the kid ostracised by his peers) swear, whine and drink their way through a night of teen angst. In the main, however, the actors were believable as 17 year olds, although more research into current teen slang might have been beneficial (does anyone under 35 know what the word “snog” means?).

While the actors did what they could with the script, it felt, nonetheless, like they were distanced from their characters, in part, no doubt, because the script has no sense of empathy with the experiences of teenagers today.

While the concept of Seventeen is clever, the play misses the mark by presenting a version of adolescence that feels distinctly middle-aged.

Seventeen’ closes 10 February.

Photo: Jessica Wyld

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2 thoughts on “A middle-aged view of adolescence”

  1. One of the reviewers responsibilities is to be able to read marketing material and to be able to differentiate between genres. This reviewer has decided that a play that describes itself as a dark comedy about older people playing teens getting drunk in a park should be a nuanced and deep representation of today’s youth and should be essentially the same play as the one she just walked out of.

    The market audience of Seventeen are older people, not younger people. The point is that older people can look at themselves and have a laugh at how things have changed. And that they can revel in a play that puts together an ensemble of older actors in a world dominated by young culture. In a world where young is good and old is bad it feels amazing to sit down amongst your own generation and watch a play that’s not a lounge room drama, or where you are represented as in need of an old age home, or deaf, or unable to dance, or someone who is shocked at swearing, or who has never had a cheeky kiss in the dark.
    I was with friends and what I noticed was that everyone was laughing. Because it’s a comedy. As I expected it to be, because that’s what the publicity blurbs said it would be. Next time you decide to compare one completely different play to another that has a completely different market audience remember that it’s not all about you.

  2. Some of the actors in 17 have agents and work professionally.

    Also, professional actors can be found working in community theatre productions to keep their acting muscle tuned up

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