Theatre veterans unravel our teens

PHOTO: Pia Johnson

The Melbourne Theatre Company has opened its 2024 season with Seventeen – a play so powerfully reflective of adolescence it digs up memories you didn’t even know existed.

It begins with a burst of energy that is so reflective of Muck Up Day. The characters are on the edge of adulthood, gathering at a local park to celebrate a rite of passage that is the final day of school.

Within minutes, you’re flooded with thoughts from your last day of high school. It was only two years ago for me, but I know every other person in the room (young and old) was feeling the same rush of nostalgia.

The cast is sublime, bringing so much experience and professionalism to a role so often played by teenagers or young adults. It doesn’t take long for you to forget their age and see them as the characters navigating a pivotal moment of self discovery.

Richard Piper (Mike) lets out enough profanities to send your grandmother around the bend in just the first minutes of the production and it introduces his cocky character perfectly. He is the antagonist in the play, however, his growth throughout the story is arguably the most significant.

PHOTO: Pia Johnson

But for me, the real star of the show is Pamela Rabe (Jess) best known for her appearances in the Australian films Sirens, Cosi and Paradise Road, and for starring as Joan Ferguson in the television drama Wentworth. The depth she brings to the character, her mannerisms and relationships with her peers is impeccable.

Genevieve Picot (Emilia) plays Jess’ best friend. The two of them together are on fire and incredibly entertaining to watch. Genevieve brings the wisdom into the group while still portraying the lack of life experience required for the role.

George Shevtsov (Ronny) is a Perth based actor making his debut with Melbourne Theatre Company. His character brings bags of emotion to Matthew Whittet’s script. Having been kicked out of home into a world where he doesn’t feel wanted, you can’t help but feel sorry for him. It is a stellar performance by George that conveys hurt and the simple power of support.

And I can’t forget Fiona Choi (Lizzy), who is no stranger to MTC. Her character is the loud and unapologetic younger sister of Mike who surprisingly offers some much needed guidance to her brother and peers.

Christina Smith’s set replicates a children’s playground on a circle of woodchips. It is simple and slowly rotates one full cycle during the 1 hour 35 minute production, resulting in each scene being carefully staged on different parts of the set as they come to the front of the stage.

While it’s not complex by any means, the slow rotation really works with the script and is almost unnoticeable.

The lighting, curated by Paul Jackson, is subtle and comes to a beautiful crescendo at the end as the sun rises on a night of antics. It complements the feeling of a new dawn expressed by the cast who come to learn so much more about themselves than they did in the beginning.

Seventeen is a playful yet moving exploration of adolescence capturing the drama of growing up, letting go and coming to terms with who you are and what you want. They are feelings we have all experienced and share with one another.

I must admit, there was a moment in the last quarter of the show where I was suddenly overcome with emotion. It stirred something up in me that I didn’t even know existed.

This show is a reminder that there is an inner teen in all of us that says more about us than we know.

Seventeen is now playing at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner until Feb 17. Tickets can be purchased at mtc.com.au.

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