So many of us turn to stories as escapism to transport us to a completely imagined other reality, a perfect future, or an idealised distant past. But what if it was possible to really escape a life that wasn’t safe for you? What if you could just walk into that other place if you only knew the way?
Clive (Sam Wallace) is having a rough go as a bit of an outsider at high school now that his best friend has moved away. He has to sit next to the school cool girl Bianca (Sophie Teo), who always makes fun of his top hat, and his home life isn’t much better with an absent mother (Lisa Hanssens), a self-interested step-father (Brendan McBride), and a private school step-brother with no mutual interests (Sam Martin). His only solace is a certain kind of afternoon he encounters every once in a while, where the light changes and the air shifts, and he can imagine stepping away from his loneliness into another life entirely. Clive keeps his escape plan to himself until a flirtation with Bianca leads to his confiding in her. Soon, news of his afternoons has spread around to other kids at the school, particularly a troubled outcast named Dylan (Dominique Purdue), and Clive has to reckon with much more complicated questions of fairness, loneliness, and the consequences of escaping a life you didn’t choose.
Bokkie Robertson’s new script, winner of the 2021 Silver Gull Play Award, is a bright spark for teens looking for theatre that speaks to them with eloquence, imagination, and integrity. The premise of a portal somewhere else, open for those who most need it, is intoxicating for many teens who feel left out and overlooked. But Robertson went further than an idea and constructed a lively, honest world around witty and believable characters that made for a compelling theatrical experience for audiences of any age. In particular, Robertson’s balance between the pathos of the teen years with ironic humour and sweet vulnerability was pitch-perfect for a story exploring fantasy and reality, loneliness and connection.
Set designer Blake Hedley used a bland grey wall full of doors to represent the banal spaces of a typical high school while using school desks rearranged in various configurations to transport the characters from classrooms to homes to cafes as necessary. The lighting design by Dany Akbar largely kept the space illuminated with a generic fluorescent wash with occasional dashes of dramatic shadow and bold colours, particularly to illustrate big emotions like fear, despair, and anticipation.
Robertson’s direction was unsurprisingly well-calibrated to the script with ironic fourth-wall-breaking used to signal scene changes and plenty of physical humour to keep the audience included and invested in the characters’ actions. Small choices like integrating movement of props into the opening of scenes so characters could start non-verbally setting the scene demonstrated a well-tuned ear to the tone of the production and slotted it in amongst other teen classics like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or the mock-umentary elements of Mean Girls. Another directorial choice worth mentioning for how it added to the enjoyment of the production includes using McBride and Hanssens as the default adult personas from Clive and Xavier’s parents to school teachers to security guards, which allowed greater focus and individuality in the teenage characters against a backdrop of interchangeable adults.
The performances were exuberant with plenty of surly teenage dramatic exits and well-timed banter. Wallace as the central protagonist was highly engaging as he navigated big emotions and shifting relationships. His delivery to the audience was cheeky with a careful attention paid to the performativity of the teenage years. Teo’s Bianca was equally convincing with a charming character arc from sarcastic and combative to a more sensitive and vulnerable characterisation. Purdue and Martin additionally stood out for the heart in their portrayals of teenagers facing unusual levels of parental neglect, control, and abuse. The cast was strong as an ensemble akin to the likes of Clueless where the characters portray an outward sophistication and knowledgeability despite repeatedly bumping up against their naivety, making for some very humorous dramatic irony.
For teens and adults alike, the Other End of the Afternoon is a highly original, clever, and funny new production with an abundance of heart and spirit.
The Other End of the Afternoon ran at New Theatre from September 14th – October 1st
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