Tales of the audience walking out mid-show, ranting reports of inappropriate language and themes gave Driving Into Walls an interesting debut as part of the Perth Festival 2012. However, it’s all this controversy that draws an intruiged audience into their seats to be presented with a thought stimulating reflection of the ideas and feelings of Australia’s youth.
After giving 500 Western Australians from ages 13-18 a camera and saying ‘tell us something you have never told anyone before’ playwright Suzie Miller constructed a heart racing physical theatre performance written ultimately by young people, performed by young people, for young people. From sex and drugs to domestic violence and teen pregnancy. Suzie Miller ensures that no teenage opinion goes unheard.
A large glass box centre stage with only five chairs and a projector screen as a set provide the perfect blank canvas for an emotive performance that does not rely on the set but the movement of the actors to tell the story. The box at times represents the mind of a Western Australian teenager. It traps them in a cage that is abused and bullied by outsiders, holds in their most private secrets and only echoes back to them their screams of inner torment. The projector flickers from facebook profiles to disjointed home videos and pictures, enhancing the past of the story currently being told by the actor, usually centre stage and circled by the rest of the cast who physicalise their story with elegant and descriptive dance that encapsulates all the dramatic effect intended by physical theatre.
Infact, the physical theatre genre us developed through most of what is presented straight foreward to the audience being a blank canvas. We do not rely on the set or the costumes to place the characters in our minds but rely on their actions, voice and movement. Alicia Clements has designed perfect costumes with this in mind. The clothing of all the actors is normal, normal makeup, normal shoes and hair, all to reflect on the recurring theme that the stories presented are those of normal teenagers who struggle with the everday problems most people encounter during their youth. Brutally frankly presented statistics enforce the physical genre whilst informing and shocking the audience with the truth about our youth. “Every one of us has lied to our parents.”
The vibrant young cast fall perfectly in form together as a team. Harrison Elliot opening and closing the show with the flair of a trained dancer in his flowing movements and gentle words that speak of what the future holds for our teenagers. No audience member would tell that the majority of the cast have had little acting training but have a theatrical history comprising mostly of dance as each character was developed and presented with a talent and realism any professional actor would yearn for. In such a confronting show, where much time is spent in their underwear and entangled in suggestive positions with their fellow actors, each cast member held their own with strength and successfully formed part of the tight group. Michael Smith must be praised for his heart wrenching portrayal of a homosexual teen during an intimate moment. His eyes held the gaze of fellow actor Harrison Elliot with such intensity and passion the atmosphere in the audience melted into sympathy as the pair physicalised the bullying received for their sexuality by working against and around the glass box. Smith gives a speech “I’m not racist but…” from the perspective of Aboriginal youths, unveiling a harsh truth as to how they are judged by white society that had tears welling in the eyes of many audience members.
The direction by John Sheedy could have been matched by no other. He perfectly balances the physicality of the genre with the raw realism the ideas presented need as there are moments of stillness that develop quickly into fast paced confessions then mellow into the naieve truths of Australia’s young people. The controversy related to the play must lie largely in the exploration of teen sexuality. His direction in a moment that could appear raunchy and crass gives the scene where the actors peel each others clothes off whilst kissing and feeling each others bodies the innocence and curiosity of teenagers just exploring one another at a fragile and delicate time in their lives.
At the close of the show. Elliot leaves us with the haunting question. “Do you trust us? Do you?” asking for a moment of reflection in the audience to consider what the world will be like when the teenagers portrayed in the performance take their place as the leaders of society. Despite the shocking confrontation of homosexual themes, drugs, kissing and sex. Sheedy and his team have produced an artistic reflection of Western Australia’s future.
Suitable for ages 15-55, a must visit show for every teenager and their parents. Allowing teens understand themselves and their parents a window into the mind of their child during the years of their lives said to be the most destructive and difficult for parenthood.
Driving Into Walls performs at the State Theatre Underground 25 Feb–3 March.