Adolescence is really, really hard but add on an unwell dad, struggling mum, burgeoning sexual relationship, and an absurd blueberry costume and it can all become overwhelming very quickly. Staged as part of Griffin’s Batch Festival, Ang Collins’s Blueberry Play is an emotional roller coaster through a 17-year-old’s life in small town Australia. Plus, there are some pretty schnazzy labrador animations.
The unnamed protagonist, played by Contessa Treffone, is your typical teenage girl in that she has a big crush, a best friend, and really embarrassing parents. The point of difference are the small traumas and confusions she has to navigate through her father’s illnesses and their impact on her family while also trying to figure out her sexuality and place in the world. Collins’s quirky style of writing, where the protagonist narrates her experiences in second-person and jumps between sadness, excitement, and relief with the rapidity only adolescence can produce, means the audience is drawn very quickly into the protagonist’s struggles and we empathise immediately. Not everyone’s dad has invented a new super hot sauce, but we’ve all shown up on mufti day in our school uniforms. Even then, it’s not the events of Blueberry Play that resonate so strongly, but the truth and clarity (or lack thereof) of emotion the character is experiencing.
If it sounds like there’s a bit of a juggling act going on between highs and lows, joys and sorrows in this production, it’s because there is. Collins’s script accurately portrays the irony of life when everything begins to collapse and change at once. But the humour she deploys keep the emotions in balance and allow each to occupy the stage genuinely and with integrity. The only criticism I would have is perhaps the frequency of a quick change between high and low emotion became repetitive and predictable as a narrative construction. It took the edge off a joyful moment to see the undercut of surprise or disappointment coming. But the peak moments of pure joy and pure heartbreak absolutely glisten.
As a single hander, Treffone maintains a wonderful energy throughout the performance. Her comic delivery, especially in her father’s voice and ever-present Dave, were spot on and gave compelling moments of difference to the monologue. With a direction that more finely considered change of pace, her comic and dramatic timing would have also been spot on.
The protagonist’s characterisation would have benefitted from a lighting and stage design that allowed for more movement and engagement. Though, the large pink door and streamers strongly reminded me of my in-between childhood room: both too immature and dauntingly free. The large reflective black stage left a lot to audience imagination and, with the lighting design aimed largely at the back wall, didn’t take full advantage of the space available. The set overall reminded me a lot of STC’s recent production of Top Girls, another production that didn’t match the space provided to it, but that also used sparkling streamers and a large black stage floor.
This production is heart-warming and crushing and will throw you right back into your high school body. The story is one you won’t have heard before coming from a playwright you’ll have to look out for. Definitely try to catch this one before the week is out.
Blueberry Play is running at Griffin Theatre Company’s Batch Festival from April 19th – 21st.