Review by Kate Gaul
Legit Theatre Co present “Dumb Kids” by Jacob Parker and directed by emerging artist Sophia Bryant. Pre publicity tells us this is audaciously imagined as a queer response to Wederkind’s “Spring Awakening”. It’s a far cry from Wederkind’s “tradegy of childhood” with its themes of rape, child abuse, violence, abortion, ignorance. “Dumb Kids” tells the story of year 11s exploring their identity and sexuality. They want love, they want passion, they want to be friends for life, but they need answers, and they need to be the most authentic versions of themselves, and I guess this is where this play and its inspiration in Wederkind do meet. By contrast to Wedekind, these characters are extremely woke – they are (mostly) cool with who they are in this extended friend group. Secrets, desires, concerns are discussed. No-one’s life is ever at stake. Emotions and egos are bruised. But they have each other, right? Like an extended rom com, the play and production lean into a celebration of what it is to be young and middle class in 2023. For that reason alone, “Dumb Kids” is a breath of fresh air. It IS great that today maturing humans have a vocabulary about who they are and that plays can be written about sexual and gender experience with such confidence.
Jacob Parker has been establishing himself as a playwright of note with works such as “This Genuine Moment” and “Tell Me Before the Sun Explodes”. “Dumb Kids” reinforces his assured ability with dialogue and the funny turn of phrase. The play feels overly long as it slides to its conclusion that “things will get better” and it’s hard to gauge whether the writer believes this maxim or if it’s meant to be an ironic note. Many scenes are constructed so that there’s a kind of overlapping or mirroring of dialogue. It’s a neat technique. Perhaps overused here rather than saved for some wow! moments. The production has a stuttering and sometimes plodding flow as the team navigate this characteristic of the writing.
Parker’s ten characters are all clearly drawn and each one has a special moment. Of note, Lou McInnes, who plays trans character Will, has a finely tuned speech describing a first sexual experience with a stranger. They have the skill to deliver the arresting moment and the writing here genuinely subverts what could have been a cliched recall. Well-known Sydney improvisor and comedian Kate Wilkins is fabulously funny and extremely likeable as lost boy Otis; Rachel Seeto (as Maria) and Oli McGavock (as Lammeir) impress in the depiction of their burgeoning relationship. The cast is a roll call of the freshest and brightest new faces on the Sydney indie stage, and it was a pleasure to experience their work. Fraser Crane, Ryan Hodson, Dominique Purdue (striking inn Slanted Theatre’s recent “Short Blanket”), Angharad Wise, Connor Reily, and. Mym Kwa – go see them!
The setting is a school playground. The monkey bars and other climbing stuff are now too small for the teens. The formal costumes worn for the final scene are variously too large or too tight. Designer Benedict Janeczko-Taylor has astutely delivered a design that resonates with the context for the characters who inhabit that treacherous space between child and adult. Thomas Doyle’s lighting design is elegant, and he has some fun with colour and shadows for the interpolated movement sequences (movement director Emma Van Veen). Christine Pan’s composition and sound design is subtle and supports the story at both literal and atmospheric levels. The team is admirably pulled together by director Sophie Bryant and she – along with the other creatives – are voices we need to hear more from, and I will be eagerly looking out for these names in the next company lists and blurbs.
Finally, to mention the producers Thomas Hanaee, Anni Stafford, and Mathew Lee. Producing is a job that is largely misunderstood by most people, even practitioners. Massive applause for your clear, courteous, and timely communication plus delivering a stylish production to birth a brand-new play! Bravo!