It would be easy to conclude that Brisbane based playwright Stephen Davis is obsessed with teen issues. Fortunately, Davis handles taboo topics in a hard-hitting and honest style, achieving recent success on stage and screen. (His recent play Blurred was produced on film last year.)
Juice was a clever product of workshops with Brisbane year 10 students, so it is no surprise that drama teacher/director Lyndelle Green thought it an apt choice to kick start Brisbane Arts Theatre “Early Week” program.
The plot centres on a rite of passage among a group of students completing year 10. The pulp of the story concerns a suicide within the group, forcing the characters individually to examine their relationships, their future, and ultimately themselves. As an adjunct to this, Juice concentrates on real teen issues: alcohol, fitting-in, relationship conflict and coping with death.
Juice‘s style is that of a play interspersed with interview-like soliloquy. The audience find themselves grappling between past and present events, to view the bigger picture. Green never lets anybody leave the stage, instead choosing to use freeze frames and moments of recitative to piece together the intricate elements, a method which generally works well. Her use of Brechtian technique adds to the play’s insightful context.
The casting of teenagers as teenagers (as opposed to the overdone casting of adults in such roles) is refreshing, resulting in believability while giving young talent the opportunity to act out a quality script. Peter Norton is very convincing as the lead (Rodney), a teenager sorting out the relationship between his father, while trying to fit into the group. Candi Gow (Rodney’s girlfriend, Mel) stands out as the epitome of a teenage girl, picking up on the insecurities felt at that age. Melinda Buttle is comfortable on stage and was my favourite as the citric and sardonic Shandi. The rest of the group admirably capture the innate awkwardness of their characters: The blokey bloke, Tony (Gordon Douglas), the larrikin, Bert (Samuel Hussey) and everyone’s friend, Kirsty (Tae Grainger). Rodney’s parents (Olivia Meiklejohn and Jez Veal) display the difficulties in raising an adolescent, but also the care they have for their son. A special mention must be made of Elise King (as Donna/Lynette Chapman) and Joanna Dowdle (Emma) who amazed me with their clarity of speech and stagecraft. (I’m sure the rest of the cast will quickly learn that there needs to be pauses when the audience is laughing so no lines are lost.)
The play is shorter than expected, but the pace is suitable. Music is used at appropriate places, but in the party scene it might be an idea to use music without lyrics, to allow the audience to focus more on the dialogue and not the song.
Much of the potential upstage area is taken up by the Blithe Spirit set, covered in black cloth (part of the logistics of running two productions concurrently), but with everyone on stage all the time, the space appears crowded. Green could’ve done with the few extra metres. Lighting effects are simple but innovative, and costumes reflect modern teenage trends. The simple Juice sub-set facilitates the stage action quite well.
Juice is confronting, funny, sad and a truthful representation of modern teen issues. It was rather discouraging that there were quite a few seats spare on opening night. Quality youth theatre like this deserves the community’s support.