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Review: Playthings at Studio Underground (State Theatre Company of Western Australia)

Review by Tatum Stafford

There have been a handful of ground-breaking Australian theatrical works produced over the past few years. After seeing Tuesday night’s opening performance, I am certain Playthings is one of the most important, meaningful and heart-warming shows WA has seen in a long while.

Though the premise may at first seem simple, there is plenty beneath the surface of this touching piece written and directed by local playwright Scott McArdle. What begins with two schoolkids sneaking out late to hang out sharply weaves through an array of serious and important issues that are confronting (in the best way possible) when presented by youthful characters.

First performed at The Blue Room, a small black box theatre tucked away in the Perth Cultural Centre, it’s clear from the opening scene that this powerful show is deserving of a much larger audience and space to play in.

First of all, the show is perfectly cast. Courtney Henri gives a powerful performance as 13-year-old Lucy; striking a stunning balance between mischievousness and frustration, and her partner-in-crime Arnold is played with poise and passion by Daniel Buckle. The adult cast, with St John Cowcher as stepdad Rhys and Siobhan Dow-Hall as Miss Richards, are brilliant counterparts to the schoolkids, and carry a level of maturity that helps ground the story in an extremely believable reality.

Another sublime aspect of this show is its incredibly naturalistic, relatable writing. Each scene flows perfectly to the other, and characters interact in a way that feels refreshing. Multimedia plays an integral part to heightened moments, with text messages displayed on a wall of the set, and with music blaring through the speakers (or Arnold’s record player) whenever emotions are running high, with either happiness or anger the predominant outlooks of the two protagonists.

When it comes to guiding themes, the show does not shy away from some very tough conversations and confronting scenes, particularly towards its final moments. McArdle plays with the characters’ high highs and low lows as the audience watch Lucy and Arnold fall in love, fight fiercely, and battle demons from their childhood or families that many households would sadly relate to. This contrast is expertly woven throughout the piece, and adds a layer of depth that elevates this piece from a typical Australiana story to a tale that is scarily becoming more common in an age where discussions about mental health are happening, but not frequently enough.

In his opening night speech, writer and director Scott McArdle expressed his overarching desire for the show: to start important conversations with our loved ones about mental health. After seeing this impactful show, there is no doubt in my mind that thousands of Perth theatregoers will be having these conversations in weeks and months to come.

Image Supplied


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