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August 21, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

Silent Disco (Arts Centre)


Published August 2011 at Crikey

Silent Disco is an edgy, almost angry representation of modern teenage life, littered with sharp-witted wisecracks and the promise of potential, both in the script writer, set designer and the actors themselves. Bless the folks at the Arts Centre’s FULL TILT program, because they have obviously been working hard this year to ensure that fresh ideas are given room to breathe. While the storyline is typical and at times a little predictable, Silent Disco is also careful to appeals to adults and teenagers alike, without becoming overly obnoxious or overwhelmed with the tired subject of teenage angst.

Tamara (Sophie Hensser) is a sharp-tongued high-school student dating an equally yobbo Squid (Meyne Wyatt). They spend most of the time in English class torturing the affable teacher Mrs Petchall (an excellent Camilla Ah Kin). Petchall is an unusually robust figure in a world crumbling under the pressure of adolescent depair, and it is one of those plays that reminds you how ridiculous it seems to feel tortured while you are perfectly young and healthy.

Fortunately the audience is able to empathise with the two main protagonists; Tamara and Squid have legitimate reasons to be despondent. Tamara’s father (Kirk Page) spends most of his days in bed suffering from depression, for unknown reasons. Squid is struggling with the growing interference of his older brother (also Kirk Page), who’s just about to finish a stint in prison and who is effectively portrayed as a creeping menace thanks to Page’s understated aura of attitude. Trouble really starts brewing when Dane  meets Tamara. It’s a case of wrong time, wrong place, and it threatens to crush the security net Squid and Tamara have created in each other.

While the play is well-written and allows each actor a certain amount of space to play, the division of energy is unevenly split between the two halves. While there is a little too much time spent developing characters in the first half, the action bursts out on stage in the second act.

Camilla Ah Kin does a ripper job exploiting her assortment of characters and their wide-ranging demands. She is particularly effective as the empathetic teacher Mrs Petchall, who is fully aware of adolescent troubles but unable to combat the oncoming disaster. Ah Kin also tends to steal most of the scenes she is in; as Dezzie the check-out chick in particular, she ramps up an Greek-style accent and exploits every opportunity to milk laughs. Page puts in a solid and well-balanced performance as Dane and in his brief appearance as Tamara’s depressed father, but it is the two main actors Hensser and Wyatt who are, at points, astonishingly emotive.  This is particularly so for Wyatt, who seems to pull feeling from nowhere; they’re both actors to watch.

Silent Disco is directed at a younger crowd, one which is more likely to identify with the conundrums faced by the two main protagonists. But the thoughtful casting and strong performances elevate this play to a level that is thought-provoking and entertaining to any theatre-goer willing to take a chance on a play that treats normally overdone subjects with a fresh and compassionate eye.

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