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Hell’s Canyon

The Old 505 presents, HELL’S CANYON, by Emily Sheehan, in the Old 505 Theatre, Eliza St. Newtown. 1st August – 11th August.

Photo by James John

HELL’S CANYON, is a new play, perhaps, a first play, by Australian writer, Emily Sheenan. 60 minutes long. Ms Sheenan in her notes for the program tells us that she wrote HELL’S CANYON ‘to try to make sense of the grief and rage and pain I felt as a young person’.

Two teenagers, 17 year old Caitlin (Isabelle Ford) and 15 year old Oscar (Conor Leach) are weighed down with the angst of the recent circumstances of their lives. Hunter, Caitlin’s boyfriend and Oscar’s older brother, has hung himself from the rafters in the garage. Both these teens are coping with this tragedy as best they can, by themselves. Caitlin, however, is coping with even more, she has been diagnosed with cancer of the bone and is due for an operation almost immediately. This she tells Oscar on a flee from the world supports they have had about them. They struggle against a sense of joint despair.

The writing has promise, it has a poetic vision and a daring to ‘play’ in a place of surreal, as well as in the grim naturalism of the greater part of the play’s circumstances. There is too much exposition that tends to repeat itself before it moves forward with the ‘storytelling’, and the tragedy sometimes becomes, in this production a kind of overstated ‘melodrama’.

Ms Ford, as Caitlin, unfortunately, gives a performance that tends to play in a narrow vocal range and volume, with a tendency to ‘pretend’ – recite – her text for her journey, than to ‘experience’ it. Mr Leach’s work is ‘composed’ on a, relatively, superficial and unsophisticated palette, trusting that his attractive energy will be enough to convince us to be concerned for Oscar. It does not.

Director, Kate Crawthorne, has staged the play but has not interrogated the play or required her actors to tell experienced truths. Intellectually, Ms Crawthorne’s program notes has a sense of the dramaturgical potential of Ms Sheenan’s play but she has not the penetrating skills to mine them for the audience with these actors.

What is best about this production is the determined effort by these fledgling artists to show the work. HELL’S CANYON is the first of many stepping stones, one hopes.