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The Age Of Consent

THE AGE OF CONSENT written by Peter Morris presented by BAREBOARDS Productions, ARTS NSW and TAMARAMA ROCK SURFERS at the Old Fitz.


This is a Co-Op production. The play was first presented at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2001 and then subsequently at The Bush Theatre. This production began it’s Australian life at this year’s Adelaide Fringe in March, 2002.

The program notes suggest that the play was inspired by the Jon-Benet Ramsay and Jamie Bulger cases. But Peter Morris himself is never that specific in the play itself or in the original program notes. This is a conceit of the Production or Director. He began, he says, with notes of “monologues about tabloidization of youth”. Now he says he doesn’t know “if it is still about tabloidization (whatever that is), but its certainly about youth, and what it means to be a child or a young person in the world today.”

The play is made up of two intertwining monologues. The first by a young single mother attempting to bring up her young pre teen daughter Raquel. (Stephanie, played by Caroline Kemp.) The second by a young nineteen year old male awaiting his release from a correctional facility after serving his time for the murder of a child. (Timmy, played by Ivan Donato.) The text is wonderfully written. Insightful, poignantly funny, inherently tragic.

Caroline Kemp’s performance is confusing. One is not certain whether Stephanie is just a dim witted woman, herself a victim of bad parenting and contemporary media aspirations who looks for a “celebrity” way to bring up her little girl: A panto career, a modelling career, a Les Miz career, an advertisement actor’s career who blithely pursues that path at the expense of her child’s well being in total ignorance of the consequences on her child or a mother who in the desperate need not to be a failure knowingly pimps her child for personal comforts, her last scene in an old crumbling villa in Tuscany “So much… peace” while her daughter under the predatory guidance of Desmond Varady, “walk down to his car, him with the picnic hamper” ….containing… “A bottle of claret and two glasses… and her little hand reaching up to clutch his pinky finger.” Stephanie left behind with her last line “You have no idea how nice it is to be alone.” The performance is superficial, an actress aware of the comedy and not much of the opportunities of the tragic pathos inherent in the character. The direction of the performance is not clear enough. Muddled. On the performance I saw the actress noticeably lost concentration several times and had to correct her text which suggested to me someone who had played this role too often and was simply acting a facsimile of what was on the page, not much depth or real presence in the moment or else incredibly nervous. Stephanie’s final moments had tears running down her cheeks. It was puzzling to try to understand why.

On the other hand the performance of Ivan Donato is spectacular for its balance between the emotional explosions and cool headed awareness of Timmy. A young child who looking for love, attention, acts out a tragic event that results in him hitting a young friend with lead piping like “Mrs Peacock did in the conservatory” in the game of Cluedo then subsequently putting a battery in his mouth “because I thought he would come back… come back on, he’d start moving… like in TOY STORY, the second one.” and now as an intelligent young man, ten years later with a good education in the correctional facility, trying to find a way to live in a world that he is about to enter with no acceptable motivation to explain what he did. He worries about leaving a life where he is regarded as unique to enter one where he will be like us, the opposite to unique, which he believes is the equivalent to worthless, hopeless. Mr Donato inhabits this character and is both scarifying and empathetic. Mesmerising to watch.

This is a very interesting play. Unfortunately the production under the direction of Shannon Murphy does not reveal its full potential. The Design (Set and Costume by Rita Carmody), Lighting (Matt Schubach) and Sound (Steve Toulmin) are functionary. The management of the two actors in the space sometimes distracting: Taking us from the focus of the play merely for positional shiftings of the other actor.

This play reveals what GITTA SERENY in her 1998 book CRIES UNHEARD urges us to consider. These two voices Stephanie and Timmy are only two of the voices in the contemporary world of rising abuse and violent juvenile crime. And like the subject of Ms Sereny’s book, Mary Bell, “there are many people in our society who dismiss children such as Mary as ‘evil’ and with that both condemn them and absolve themselves of any responsibility for their fate.” And if a play such as THE AGE OF CONSENT can serve any purpose, on hearing Stephanie and Timmy’s voice it must help us to change that attitude, must help us to change the future – for the sake of all our children. The final Consent that Mr Morris engages in, is this complicit consent we give for this story to be told. “The consensual relationship: not just the willing suspension of our disbelief, but more generally the profound sadomasochism entailed when any audience assembles… I simply mean: tragedy gives pleasure, and we come to the theatre (read and watch the tabloid media) to watch these characters suffer (Big Brother, Australian Idol), but I hope we also come to empathise, and suffer with them.” Like the startlingly brilliant film of Hanneke FUNNYGAMES (both the original and the American remake) it is quite disconcerting when Timmy at the end of the play talks directly to us, first person, no fourth wall, and tells us to “Applaud. For yourselves. Clap hands for you and me and all of us whose voices count for nothing in this world, I mean, we made it this far in silence, didn’t we? We might do something about it yet. Know what I mean?”

A flawed production but recommended both for the play itself and Mr Donato’s work.