After weeks of rain, a coming-of-age story set under the summer sun was a sip of sweet relief. But not everything in Paradise is as good as it seems with a rogue orange vandal on the loose and a neighbourhood watch more invested in peace than justice. Maybe a blast from the past is exactly what this neighbourhood needs to shake it out of its stuffy ways.
Kirsty Marillier’s debut play takes place in suburban Australia with local pools full of local kids and hawk-like busy-bodies patrolling the street but it harks back to the characters’ birthplace of South Africa and the mystery and adventure represented by those far-off lands. Zadie (Gabriela van Wyk) is responsible for her sister Vimsy (Mariama Whitton) and their house while their parents are away in SA for the summer and she’s taking her position very seriously, especially when it comes to appeasing the Queen Bee of the neighbourhood committee, Sharron (Callan Colley), who already has it out for their family as the newest in the neighbourhood. But Zadie encounters three unexpected interruptions to her quiet summer plans: Leroy (Colley) might actually be returning her crush, her cousin Stekkie (Angela Nica Sullen) comes blazing through town, and someone keeps pelting oranges at their front door, literally making their family a target for attention. As much as Zadie tries to strangle her world into submission, tragic news from SA teaches her that not everything in life is under her control.
Taking on the bright new voice of Marillier’s script, the direction from Zindzi Okenyo was similarly animated with a playful, bubbly attitude throughout the production underpinned by the hint of something stronger and more sinister. The central characters, despite the different ages, all had the possibilities of their lives spread before them, veering between giddy and wary of the options available, which gave the production a free-spirited, youthful atmosphere. Interestingly, a quirk of the script and characterisation of Zadie and Vimsy gave the sisters a familial shorthand that alluded to a larger shared history but always kept the audience on the back foot, just outside the inner circle of their relationship, but which strengthened the feeling of their love and trust with each other.
With a cast made up of Griffin debuts, the performances presented some vibrant new talents for Sydney stages. van Wyk carried Zadie’s girl-next-door charm well and showed great potential for more complex roles while Whitton approached Vimsy with real spunk and versatility. Colley was a crowd favourite for his goofy Leroy but even more so for his excellently delivered micro-aggressions as Sharron. Stekkie, as the black sheep of the family and the production, was very well handled by Sullen who afforded the character both the bravado and the vulnerability for a nuanced and compelling characterisation.
The production design by Jeremy Allen placed the action within the family’s living room, a funky and modern space with a blue-on-blue colour scheme that reflected the lighting design by Verity Hampson well. While largely a realist production, there were moments where a mysticism crept into Zadie’s carefully curated world and a deeper spiritual power overtook the stage. In these moments, the lighting design became more colourful and fluid, while the sound design from Benjamin Pierpoint shifted away from Australian native birdcalls to ethereal instrumental humming. This element of Marillier’s script was an engaging approach to discussion of memory, ancestry, and trauma but it remained introductory, as though this was only the beginning of Zadie’s understanding of herself and her history.
In the vein of Jasper Jones or Summer of the Aliens, Orange Thrower cracks the door on the complex social and political worlds these characters are just coming to understand for themselves and allows room for discussions of race, identity, family, and belonging through relatable and loveable young people.
Orange Thrower is running at SBW Stables Theatre from February 18th – March 19th
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