Review by Carly Fisher
There is something almost immediately as unsettling as it is inviting about the way in which Jack Stokes begins his performance as Daniel Valentine - with a cheery, highly enthusiastic opening address direct to the audience. Dressed in boxers and an open shirt, the genius of this show is that what you see is very much not what you get.
I will admit, I knew little about the show going in, just that it received great acclaim abroad and was promising to be one of the standouts of the Adelaide Fringe.
The story that Daniel Valentine tells is well paced, appropriately unbelievable and expertly constructed by writer/director, Philip Stokes. It’s a story about isolation, feeling othered, parental abuse, obsession, para-social relationships and love. Though very funny at times, the show is necessarily dark and simultaneously moving. Stokes’ writing is surprising and offers an hour long show filled with so many twists and turns that you can hardly believe it is just a single fringe show. It’s not Stokes’ first show in Adelaide, and I very much hope that there is more to come.
It is however the other Stokes that I believe carries the show to the level of success it has achieved thus far. Son of the playwright, Jack Stokes, has proven himself to be a star. His energy, deep understanding of the character, effeminate and powerfully strong delivery and perfect execution of the twisted and unraveling mind of a teenager, is something to witness. As Daniel, it is his school-boy-esque charm, coupled with the expertise that a tough life hardens you, which keeps the audience on their toes.
This play has mastered the skill of leading you in one direction, only to quickly turn you to another, executed in the script, performance and cleverly, even the design. The show starts off with an accent and language so often attributed to the notion of ‘posh’ English boarding schools, and with a set that, though has its decrepit parts (intentionally), is so much more ‘full’ and structured than most fringe sets that it allows you to make that initial assessment quickly.
The more you look at the set, designed by Craig Lomas (also responsible for the lighting design), the more impressed by the finite details you become - a Cross positioned on the wall, flaking wallpaper, a clock stuck in time, and of course, the large boarded up wall in the centre. Lomas’ set is comfortably the most impressive I have seen at this year’s fringe and for all independent creatives, is a real masterclass in what can be achieved despite the standard ‘fringe set confines’ of a strike set and limited storage backstage. Lomas is a true artist in his design and I hope to see more of his creations in the future.
Reluctant to give anything away (this show really would be ruined with a spoiler), I will just say that this show surprised me and left me shocked until the final moment. For those that have read all of the reviews and have bought a ticket with that in mind, I urge you to leave what you have read at the door and go in without the pressures of the hype on the show - leave yourself open to what unfolds before you and I promise, you too, will be surprised.
Congratulations Holden Street Team - a true gem of a find!