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Review: Fourteen at Riverside

Review by Kate Gaul

The latest work of FNQ company Shake & Stir Theatre Co is a “heart-warming coming of age tale”.  Adapted from the best- selling memoir by award-winning journalist Shannon Molloy, “Fourteen” is the inspirational true story of growing up gay in central Queensland.

Adaptors Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij (with Shannon Molloy) have some great material to work with but sadly it’s a clumsy, overly long and what feels like a very early draft that has made its way into a production and now National Tour.  It’s important to tell and hear stories from the queer, rural and regional experience but this play is suffering in being too many things to too many people.  There is nothing wrong with presenting stereotypes onstage but the litany of bogan behaviour, the endless use of the f word in relation to gay boys, the unexplored relationships made for a disappointing experience. However, the campy stereotype of the way a gay boy talks, walks and dresses does need interrogation in a play like this.  If identity is used for comic relief and characters break into dance routines when the plot needs moving forward, it’s just lazy work. The pre-publicity suggested the production may be a homage to the 1990s.  I lived through the ’90s and there wasn’t much I could connect with here.  Maybe there is a fear of being super specific. One person’s coming our story can resonate across time if it is particular and distinct.  But sadly, “Fourteen” is a generalised blur.

With poor material on the page, it’s almost impossible for director Nick Skubij to make much of it on the stage.  The set design (Josh McIntosh) is monumental, traditional, filling the stage with an unimaginatively used revolve, on top of which is a double story set of literal spaces joined by endless stairs that pull in and out. Its ugly and can’t contribute to the magic that this story so desperately needs. The production is sluggish and laboured as the cast change costume endlessly and must “set up” the scenes before playing.  Like so many book adaptations the direct address from the central character Shannon is charming and suggests a more fluid production style. It’s overly long. There was no poetry in this version of “Fourteen”.  Just a nagging feeling that it’s all a bit unenlightened in its intentions.

Conor Leach leads an impressive 7 person cast.  He is Shannon- the heart of the story told across time.  He begins the play as an adult on the evening of his wedding.  We are plunged into his awkward, dangerous, and confusing teenage years.  Leach is engaging and has genuine charisma. A talent to watch. Veteran Karen Crone is delightful as Shannon’s mum and created a character that deserves scenes of more depth and complexity. She plays a damned fine teen too. Amy Ingram is incredible in her multiple roles as a heart-breaking bogan to the inspiring Rhonda.  It’s a real treat seeing these three actors on stage and more than made up for the shortcomings of the production. I couldn’t find a program at the theatre and the cast are not credited on the company website cut as I say they are all impressive.  I wanted more from this stage adaptation of this important story.

Image Credit: David Fell


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