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Photo by Brett Boardman

First Love Is The Revolution

Griffin Theatre Company presents, FIRST LOVE IS THE REVOLUTION, by Rita Kalnejais, in the SBW Stables Theatre, Darlinghurst. 1 November - 14 December

Rita Kalnejais is an Australian actor/writer (BABYTEETH), who now lives in London. FIRST LOVE IS THE REVOLUTION was written 5 years ago and had its premiere at the Soho Theatre, London. It originated, Ms Kalnejais writes in the program notes, when she was in a state of ‘culture shock’, encountering an English language that was so different from her natural Australian English, and in an amorous state with the foxes roaming the streets and backyards of the suburbs of London.

Basti (Bardiya McKinnon) is a young adolescent, surviving a family of violent father, Simon (Matthew Whittet), and mentally ill mother, and sexy predator neighbour, Gemma (Amy Hack), who befriends a fox, Rdeca (Sarah Meachan) who has wandered into the boy’s backyard. He adopts the fox and speaks to it, and to his delight she talks back. They have a common language, these two. They develop a mutual relationship, that becomes a co-dependency.

Now Rdeca has sibling foxes, Gustina (Amy Hack) and Thoreau (Guy Simon), and fierce mother, Cochineal (Rebecca Massey) who has warned Rdeca of the dangers of the humankind and advocates that she stay loyal to her own kind and let man go their own way. But like the Juliet and Romeo story the two youngsters here have given way to a first love. Like the Montagues and Capulets their relationship will be fraught with dire consequences.

Rdeca discovers that her father had been rundown and killed by Simon, Basti’s father. Cochineal seeks bloody retribution. The chicken house is rampaged. The human family let loose their dog, Rovis, in retaliation. Both families become decimated, all dead by the play’s end except for the fox, Rdeca and her partner, boy, Basti. The closing image in the play is that of bloody corpses scattered about the stage, both foxes and other animals including the older humans, with fox/Redeca and boy/Basti on top of the hill as fireworks explode, the only survivors, standing in handheld intimacy, radiating a kind of joy.

This production where the actors engage in creating both human and animal characters is a kind of adult allegory with talking animals. It has the charm of the Wes Anderson stop motion animation of 2009, FANTASTIC MR FOX. FIRST LOVE IS THE REVOLUTION is an anthropomorphic fairytale fantasy for ‘dizzy’ adults. It could be, is, a delightful 110 minutes even though it crosses into much blood and murder – decimating destruction – and a sexual relationship that by strictly logical and ethical boundaries is the taboo, bestiality, and became hugely uncomfortable to watch as Rdeca and Basti consummate their mutual attraction on the couch surrounded by savaging blood lust.

This love is, truly, a revolution, n’est-ce pas?

Now I had, mostly, a delightful distraction and I was alert to the hilarity and identification of most of the audience in the SBW theatre, but after all that time, being teased, I began to long for its point to crystalise. After 110 minutes without interval what was the play saying? What do I take home from this excursion into fantasy? I could not find an answer, a solution. I could not determine what it was all about. My companions were similarly bewildered and so we read the program notes from the writer and from the director Lee Lewis. They didn’t really make any clarity of intention.

Says Ms Lewis:

FIRST LOVE IS THE REVOLUTION … what a title … what an assertion … what an extraordinarily hopeful vision for the future. In an act of radical generosity, this playwright offers this age of despair an imaginative leap into optimism. But it is a 21st century optimism, alive with the knowledge of poverty, violence, and desperation, energised with the hardest of choices, and pushing us to face ancient knowledge. …

What ancient knowledge? We wondered.

This production is well done but its parts do not add up to much of a whole. The acting is delightful from all. The Design elements are amusing. Design by Ella Butler. Lighting by Trent Suidgeest. Composer and Sound Design by David Bergman. But the meaning of it all? Who can decipher?