One night the street lights inexplicably go out and the world suddenly becomes a mysterious playground for fun and mischief. For one group of high schoolers, a night in the dark is the perfect time to right old wrongs, answer hard questions, and try on another life for a change.
Alexander Lee-Rekers’s script won the 2018 ATYP Foundation Commission for 14-17-year-olds and was slated for production in 2020. After COVID-19 and flooding delayed the performance, the bright ensemble cast have finally made it to the Q Theatre stage. Directed by Lucy Clements, Lights in the Park is a jumbled collection of stories from a group of teens and their many varying missions for this one magical night. Butler (Alexander Billett) is throwing a huge party at the park facilitated by his entrepreneurial lackies Fuller (Dean Alexander) and Cal (Ben Buenen), Hal (Robin Golka) is on a quest for revenge, and Ash (Denica Brillo) is looking for redemption after a humiliating music video of hers went viral. The audience is led through all these stories by the Puck-ish narrator and social observer Amy (Daisy Millpark) who also recently lost their best friend to illness.
There was a lot going on in this production with its interwoven threads by Lee-Rekers and Clements managed to capture the high energy, high spirit atmosphere of being a teen. The characters were under great pressure to make the most out of every moment and to carry both the weight of tragedy and the joy of youth which replicated the high emotional toll of the teen years.
Across the ensemble cast, they worked well under Clements to develop and convey a complicated social hierarchy in limited scenes. In particular, Golka’s Hal stood out for their striking commitment to the revenge plot and their ability to represent extreme emotions. Buenen and Alexander also stood out for their easy, effervescent stage presences and excellent comedic timing. Lee-Rekers hoped to illustrate teeens’ resilience and the cast’s camaraderie demonstrated the best aspects of having a community of peers sharing the successes and losses of life with each other.
Liv Hutley’s set design was simple and flexible with black boxes and a symbolic street lamp that could become any park, backyard, or street corner. Lighting design from Benjamin Turner defined the stage space with heavy use of shadow and novel lighting techniques like fairy lights, lanterns, and a particularly dazzling shopping cart. Chrysoulla Markoulli added more dynamism with a contemporary pop sound design that worked with Hutley’s costume design to create a youthful, carefree atmosphere.
So much of the teenaged years feels weighted with expectation and implication. But when something unusual happens, when darkness suddenly descends, the teens of this town are able to peel back some of their protective layers. In a distorted reality, their wildest dreams, big and small, feel possible.
Lights in the Park ran at the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre from April 21st – 24th
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