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Driving Into Walls – Sarah Stopforth

On the brisk summer evening of Tuesday, February 28th, an audience ranging from school students, mothers, fathers, teachers, and even cliques of elderly women, gathered at The State Theatre of Western Australia to see the critically acclaimed performance of John Sheedy’s Driving Into Walls. Starring five incredibly talented actor-dancers, including Rikki Bremmer, Michael Smith, Matthew Tupper, Thalia Livingstone and Harrison Elliott. Prior to seeing the show, I viewed a ‘teaser trailer,’ summing up key features of the show. This outlined the full throttle and intensified making out, fighting, confessing, relationships, sexual confusion and all that falls in between for teenagers aged fourteen to seventeen in WA. This excited me because I was intrigued to see that truthful, raw exploration of the minds and behaviour of my own media-driven generation.

With the heavy use of incredible dance and movement choreography to convey character emotion, Driving Into Walls uses a large variety of play building techniques to construct the intense atmosphere where the thoughts and emotions of adolescents lie. The only set they had was a large, plastic, rectangular prism, which was phenomenal and extremely effective. They also used chairs, which moved across the stage throughout, as well as microphones, on and off stands to be used when stating facts to the audience, and various other stories where necessary. In the portrayal of each character, which changed frequently per-actor, was realistic, as were their costumes. Each actor wore clothes that are typical (some may say stereotypical) of WA’s youth today, and could be applied to any person aged fourteen to seventeen. So, I would say that this performance was Realistic, Play-Built and Physical styles. As I mentioned, the actors played many different characters, representing many true Western Australian stories from real teenagers. This was a key factor in Driving Into Walls, as it drove the rawness and intensity of the situations that WA teens face daily; and there were a lot of stories; and all very different, and very confronting.

The performance from each actor, I must say, was outstanding. Both their acting and dancing skills were undeniable. The main stand out for me personally, was absolutely Harrison Elliott. I almost cannot explain it, but his talent particularly stood out to me, that being from a stage already consumed with talented individuals from corner to corner.

Being that this production was clearly an exhausting task for the actors –from the intensive choreography  to confronting dialogue- the audience could see the millions of sweat beads on the actors; I know I could. Thus a smart set/directorial decision was made to have a row of five chairs on the far right sight of the stage, for the actors to sit and have a break, at one point of the performance, while other actors had their turn in ‘confessional.’ More thoughts on the plastic-container-like-structure, as I said it worked wonderfully for this performance.

The symbolism that a teenager’s life is a lot like being trapped inside a plastic box was very clever, and slotted in with the play-building aspects of the piece exceptionally well. Non-dance physical theatre aspects of the play, such as this movement piece blow, was an interesting directorial choice made by Sheedy. It was very effective in that particular seen, making me feel... suffocated, as the story is being told of a young girl meeting up with a cyber-boyfriend for the first time, but he is actually a thirty-year-old man. It really got my ventricles pumping and made the scene more visually interesting, and made a substantial impression on my emotions as well.

The most memorable scene I thought was the final one, in which the neutrally characterised actors bluntly announced the statistics that were gained from the interviewing of five hundred teens in Western Australia. Although the figures didn’t always surprise me, it was still very confronting to hear an actually number against something that is so serious. The entire sequence was incredibly thought provoking and intense. Hearing some of the awful things that occur in my generation as facts and figures is a hard thing to hear, even when you haven’t experienced them first or second hand.

I would definitely recommend this play to anyone aged thirteen to nineteen years old. Adolescents are the only ones who can really specifically relate to the characters, but it could also be a good thing for some parents to see. However it should only be for those adults who enter with an open mind, and are legitimately curious, or even concerned, about the issues that teenagers are faced with today. Otherwise, they might just end up like those other adults who simply walked away, mid-performance; a closed mind. Yes this play can be seen as inappropriate or crossing the line, but ultimately, one has to look past that, and consider that people need to know the truth about what happens to and goes on in the minds of teenagers. In keeping that open mind of yours, one must remember....we are this world’s future.