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Spur of The Moment

Australian Theatre for Young People (atyp) present: SPUR OF THE MOMENT by Anya Reiss at the atyp Studio 1, The Wharf, Hickson Rd.

SPUR OF THE MOMENT was written by a young British playwright, Anya Reiss at the age of 17. Now 20 years old, Ms Reiss was a guest of the company at the Opening Night performance (she must have found our winter evening, oddly, recognisable as a British summer night, which she had just left behind). Ms Reiss found her voice through the Royal Court Theatre’s Young Writers’ Programme – the same programme that developed the work of Polly Stenham: THAT FACE and TUSK TUSK; both these plays, too, finding their way onto Sydney stages.

SPUR OF THE MOMENT examines a middle class family in a marriage and financial crisis that has resulted in the audible emotional fracturing between the parents, one that Nick Evans (Felix Williamson) and Vicki Evans (Zoe Carides) pursue uninhibitedly, indulgently, with little regard to the effect that that may have on their 12, soon-to-be 13 year old daughter, Delilah (Holly Fraser). Bad parenting is one of the focuses of the play and it throws, provocatively, attention to the delicate dangers of Delilah’s child/adolescent shift, when proper attention, duty of care, is not given to her world, bombarded as it is, by a contemporary sexualized culture of inappropriate behaviours, and family disintegration.

The play begins with Delilah and her friends, Emma G (Simone Cheuanghane), Naomi (Madeline Clunies-Ross) and Emma M (Antonia Lewin) in school uniform, “bumping and grinding” out the latest pop song, in her bedroom, the walls of which are dominated by posters of the latest teenage heroes – in this instance, and it may mark the dating of the play, one is of Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter mode  (The TWILIGHT series and HUNGER GAMES surely have superseded poor Harry already?!) In between songs the  girls discuss attraction to the 21 year old stranger/boarder, ominously, called Daniel (Joshua Brennan), in the next-door bedroom awaiting his girl friend, Leonie Fowler (Lucy Coleman), on a visit. Delilah professes a burgeoning relationship – much to the breathless excitement and taunting disbelief of her friends. This heating sexual time-bomb situation, alongside distracted parents, and as the play develops, the revelation that this Daniel has none of the honour ethics of the fictional hero, ‘Harry’, impersonated by Danny Radcliffe, leads to another serious crisis for the young heroine. Delilah attempting to understand her changing emotional life projects an infatuation into a ‘love’, needing to be expressed physically, onto Daniel, that becomes a series of inappropriate interactions escalating to threats of a criminal exposure and blackmail. This young person’s dilemma threatens to become a very contemporary social disaster – that it does not do so, is one of the weaknesses in the development of the dramatic text – for the play reaches for an unsatisfactory avoiding of consequences dramatic solution (an editing pencil to the repetitive arguments from the parents would not have gone astray, either).

This is a solid, conventional play, standing in an immaculately designed (and built) naturalistic, detailed set, of two levels – the upper being two bedrooms and hallway, with a functioning kitchen and living space at ground level (Designer, Adrienn Lord). The lighting by Benjamin Cisterne serves the conventions of the writing well. Played and directed (Fraser Corfield) straight-forwardly in a, mostly, successful naturalistic mode, Ms Fraser, Mr Brennan, Ms Carides, and in smaller contributions the young girls, especially Ms Cheuanghane, are exemplary. Mr Williamson seems to be a little less surefooted about the mode of performance ‘style’ to strike as the father. There is a sense of comic parody in his creation of Nick, that seems to lessen the dramatics of the narrative – whether this comic inclination is a deliberate choice to undercut the melodramatics of the written text or not, it appears, sometimes, overly played. The company have been coached in a British dialect sound fairly convincingly by Natasha McNamara.

Although the subject matter reaches to a serious universal cultural dilemma and is importantly relevant to this Australian company of young actors and audience, and, is well done, I found the programming of SPUR OF THE MOMENT as the 50th Anniversary production for atyp more than a little disappointing, and retrograde, particularly when one knows of the very strong component of the atyp activity is in developing new Australian writing – THE VOICES PROJECT 2013 – OUT OF PLACE, for instance. An Australian writer with an Australian company of collaborative artists, perhaps, in a less conventional dramatic form, would have been a more remarkable event to celebrate the unusual survival of fifty years of an Australian cultural icon, the Australian Theatre for Young People (atyp) – more courage, less convention in choice, I would have hoped for. Something along the lines of their 2008 work VX 18504, perhaps? Dare I suggest work like THE RIOT ACT (check my blog) or SILENT DISCO, TRUCK STOP, both by Lachlan Philpott, might have been other possibilities? Australian and ‘in-yer-face’ contemporary!? SPUR OF THE MOMENT felt a safe choice,  old fashioned and much, much too MOR – middle of the road.