The Reunion

(Sue Benner Theatre)


By Daniel Evans and Rebecca Meston

Performing as part of Independents 2007, Metro Arts


When I read the notes by Saffron Benner (as dramaturg) in the program, my heart sank a little. This is “a play by and for young people.” Perhaps I should leave straight away: there was a bit too much dry ice floating round for my liking, and the music was really, really loud. Added to that was the voice which told us all to turn off our mobile phones. It was one of those detestable laughing voices which advertise things you’d never dream of buying, even if you desperately needed them, simply because that voice made it all seem so jolly and easy, and you knew you couldn’t really afford it. I believe that such voices make a comfortable living in the voiceover market. Even the ABC uses them. I looked at the audience, a few bald heads around (surely they couldn’t only be ten years out of school), I liked the set — standard metal school lockers disgorging dubious treasures with pin-ups inside the door, even some just inside the auditorium as you went in — so I settled in. A wise choice.

The laughing tones were followed by a more sober male voiceover with a quick rundown of the headlines during those ten years from high school formal to reunion: American high school massacres, Howard on Australian history, Port Arthur, the death of Diana, hijacked airliners, a tumultuous turn of the millennium. A neat piece of exposition, setting the scene of those intervening years. The laughing voice turned out to be Angela (Belinda Heit), ex-school captain, organiser of the reunion and hyper-organiser, laughing manically from sheer nerves as she arranges the name tags for the tenth anniversary of the end of high school.

From then on, the five 1997 and the five 2007 characters intermingled, sometimes enacting teenage adventures and trials, sometimes those of their late twenties, and sometimes, as the play progressed, coming to painful terms with their younger or older selves. Puzzlement and confusion led to strange resolutions, and couples shifted alliances in a quite dazzling way at times. The strength of the script, the heaps of one-liners, the startling and very funny confrontations, all remind me of Daniel Evans’s strange one-act play which was on at Metro Arts last year, Holy Guacamole. It too displayed an inventive approach to what works on stage, a quick wit and some marvellous, laugh-out-loud lines, particularly from old Granny. Evans has already been awarded a QTC Young Playwright’s Award for his first play called Opening a Fuzzwollop’s Frame of Mind (with a title like that I wish I’d seen it), which went on to be published by Currency Press, and he now has several other plays to his credit. He is obviously a talent to watch, with a wonderfully quick ear for smart dialogue which is much in evidence in this piece. Here he has a co-creator (their term) in Rebecca Meston, and from her biog in the program, I would imagine that she probably contributed, if not as many words, then certainly a good deal of the choreography and the imaginative use of the small Benner Theatre stage which ensured that its size limitations were never a problem.

However, many a good piece of theatre has been spoiled by a lacklustre cast, but thankfully everyone at and in The Reunion was excellent, and the 1997 kids really did look younger than their 2007 counterparts. Their fundamental quirks and obsessions were still there, but over the period of ten years, these had mostly been successfully assimilated into the mature self. In the case of the stud Anthony@17 (Tim Dashwood) though, nothing much had changed: a more subtle thrust of the crotch perhaps, with the same reliance on macho charm and the old come-on lines, which we see being enthusiastically tried out by the lover boy of year 12, were still being trotted out by the real estate agent of the 21st century (Matthew Filkins). By contrast Angela@17 (Judy Hainsworth), the sexy, uninhibited, no-holds-barred school captain, best girlfriend of Anthony@17, had matured into the Angela@27 who questioned her love for and marriage to Anthony, and lacked confidence both in her appearance and her ability to bring off a successful reunion.

The other “couple” were the odd ones, the nerdy Morris (Daniel White) who always wore a cycle helmet and thick glasses, was intimidated by Mummy, always being bullied by the young Anthony, but devoted to the other oddball, Zoe (Natalie Trent) who taught him about real modern music and wondered if the school was ready for “Kurt” (yes, it is a long time ago) which she was constantly in tune with through permanent headphones. She’s an outsider whose mother, we learn later, always packed a bible instead of tampons — who wouldn’t be twisted, especially when you menstruate in a white dress at the year 12 formal? Their modern counterparts have matured quite unexpectedly into Morris@27 (Chris Power), a quiet, possibly dull, social worker committed to good works, and the elegant, rather threatening Zoe@27 (Jess Loudon), who appears to be either a high-class whore or someone who likes extremely rough sex and whose sole aim seems to be to destroy her old self, to the extent of attempting to strangle her and dispose of her in a cellar. Zoe@27’s promising to have it off with Anthony@27 and then quite spectacularly seducing Anthony@17 sets in motion all sorts of recriminations and action, including a fight with Morris@17 who kicks Anthony@17 when he’s down in return for all the pain and humiliations he suffered in high school. Anthony@17 is later also given a satisfying kick by Anthony@27 who had himself fancied his chances with Zoe@27. Sorry for all the email addresses. I’m just copying the program, a neat way of conveying the intricate convolutions of the action.

The real hit of the evening are the two Gretels, Gretel@17 (Tammy Weller), a sweet, round-faced, innocent, always eager to help, worried about her plumpness, and Gretel@27 (Natasha Yantsch), a TV “personality” who has seen and done it all, thin as a rake, strawblond hair, a wonderful line in repartee, likes a tipple, and not one to be trifled with by anyone. Gretel@17 finally appears at the formal in a pink wig and dressing gown eerily coming on and off stage at random like a ghost at the feast, until she finally throws the dressing gown off revealing a skimpy fringed dress and performs the Wilson Phillips hit “Hold on for one more day” (the Wilson Phillips girls are incidentally thanked in the program). This was a real high point. In no time at all the two Angelas and the older Gretel join in, and it becomes a powerful hymn to sisterhood, with Gretel@27 (the ex-Dancing with the Stars star) choreographing their at-first reluctant steps.

The neat ending sees the 27-year-olds farewelling the school kids as they graduate and step out on their life’s journey, a strangely endearing moment. A lot has happened, but nothing much has changed: Angela will leave Anthony, Zoe will continue her lone path, Morris his, and Gretel will probably burn out early, but always with a sassy line on her lips. A great evening and an overload of talent.

Directed by Daniel Evans and Rebecca Meston

Playing 5-22 September 2007. Tues – Sat at 7.30pm.

Duration : 2hrs (including 20min interval)

— Barbara Garlick
(Performance seen: Fri 7th September 2007)