This year will mark five years since the Australian Marriage Postal Survey in which the government took a plebiscite of all Australian citizens to gauge support of legalising same-sex marriage. It was a deeply traumatic time for the LGBTQIA+ community as the debate of their rights was put on a national stage and explicitly inserted into their everyday interactions with neighbours, coworkers, and family.
For young people, the plebiscite was particularly painful because the decision would affect their lives yet they weren’t old enough to vote themselves. Inspired by friends in rural Australia and their experience during the plebiscite, writer and director Kasia Vickery imagined the sleepy town of Turneybull and two teens determined to have their say. Taz (Natali Caro) had just turned 16 when the dreaded surveys started showing up in mailboxes all across town. With best friend Shontelle (Sophie Strykowski), they hatch a plan to steal every last survey so that not one “no” vote contributes to the national numbers. But, being teenagers and new to federal crime, they make a few mistakes along the way and discover that maybe they don’t know their neighbours as well as they thought they did.
Vickery’s vision for Taz vs The Pleb was vibrant and fresh with an honest, humorous heart. Production design by Kate Beere recalled classic 90s teen television with graffiti tags, clashing colours, and a neighbour who never ventures past the back fence. The lighting design by Thomas Doyle and sound design by Scott Sohrab Majidi came to the fore in a slow-motion, choreographed montage of Taz and Shontelle pick-pocketing their neighbours for their surveys like a fight sequence performed by music video backup dancers. The humour, from one-liners to more elaborate satirical characterisations, was original and balanced the political undertones with pure silliness. Taz and Shontelle were loveable misfits but they were facing big questions of identity, belonging, and equal rights on top of the usual teenage concerns. Vickery handled their story sincerely which made it an all-together pleasurable experience getting to know the town of Turneybull.
Caro and Strykowski as the central teens were boisterous, funny, and engaging with a genuine friendly camaraderie. Strykowski’s Shontelle had the typical obliviousness of the best sidekicks but her loyalty was endearing. Caro as Taz was drier for their more determined personality but with excellent comic timing that complimented Strykowski well. All of the other characters including Taz’s mum Cathy, the nosy neighbour Lynda, the postie, the school bullies, the Neighbourhood Watch, and Suzy who ran the Milk Bar were shared impressively between Jack Mainsbridge and Lou McInnes. These two added wonderful colour to the town for their varied and detailed depictions of local personalities. McInnes’s Suzy with her Dykes on Bikes connections and Mainsbridge’s spot-on elderly postie Glenda were particular crowd favourites but the story wouldn’t have been complete without the charming co-conspiring of Cathy and the head of the Neighbourhood Watch. Despite some stumbling and misunderstanding, the town comes to rally around Taz, revealing another side of rural life that they hadn’t been privy to before.
Taz vs The Pleb covered a tough time period with real consequences for the LGBTQIA+ community but with a highly original script, graceful direction and performances, and shadow puppets, it found humour and hope in unexpected places.
Taz vs The Pleb is running at Flight Path Theatre from February 9th – 19th
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