It’s misleading to tag Dirty Apple as a production by youth for youth. Sure, the cast is young and the opera is set in a high school, but the complex relationships and strong emotional content provide much more than what the youth for youth clichusually implies.
Set at the fictional St Bartholomew High School Dirty Apple follows final year students Ryan, Ben, Emma and Josie as they play a prank on one of their teachers. They create an internet profile of their music teacher Mr Newman, suggesting he is a paedophile and his marriage is in trouble. But when Newman is suspended pending an investigation the four students find themselves in a situation where all their loyalties will be tested.
Aside from hiding their involvement in the prank, there are the usual rumours and bitchiness that are a staple of high school life. Cyberbullying is a major theme, and the impact of technology in general. There is a constant presence of mobile phones on stage to illustrate how much our lives have been infiltrated by new technology.
Director Michael Futcher and set designer Sharka Bosakova have done an incredible job to create a highly original set. The stage is made up of two levels and sectioned into large squares with moving cloth screens in front of each. The orchestra take up the majority of the lower stage with the action happening above and around them.
The screens are used throughout the play as a huge computer screen showing videos of bullying and while the characters text each other the abbreviated language appears on screen to add to the confusion. Lighting designer Andrew Meadows uses the screens effectively to create dramatic visuals adding an enormous amount to scenes of tension.
Much energy and thought has gone into this production, which Futcher divides into terms instead of acts. The Queensland Conservatorium Orchestra led by Dane Lam provide music reflecting the playful and dramatic lives of the students.
The young cast are all either in high school or have just left. Milica Ilic is mesmerising as the distraught Emma and Jordan Pollard as the confused and stubborn Ben is equally brilliant.
There is much to appeal to young audiences, whether or not they’ve had any previous association with opera, and Dirty Apple could break down the barriers between opera and young people. The language is crude but the singing is beautiful, creating a contrast that could easily be laughable but rarely is, except where intended by Futcher.
This coming-of-age story represents, for one of the first times Ive seen, the new frontier students are facing in their daily lives. We now have the power to connect to the entire world via the internet and as we have learnt from Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility. Dirty Apple shows us the disastrous effects of what happens when technology is mistreated. See this show.