Review By Lisa Lanzi
Written by actor and co-founder of Deadset Theatre Company, Zoe Muller’s Rattling the Keys gives us a grim snapshot of youth angst and tragedy when drugs, poverty and harsh life experiences shape the world of a small group of house-mates in remote rural South Australia. With this script Ms Muller was awarded first prize in the junior category of the State Theatre Company of South Australia and Flinders University Young Playwrights competition in 2018. She also acknowledges the dramaturgical assistance of Corey McMahon (now Artistic Director of Theatre Republic) as integral to the development of the final work. I am immensely grateful that opportunities like this exist for young writers so that new work will continue to invigorate the Australian theatre scene.
DTC was formed in 2017 to intentionally provide broad performance opportunities for excellent younger (16 - 25yrs) South Australian actors within stories that truly reflect issues facing a younger generation rather than place them in cameo roles where older actors and more mature narratives have the focus : Deadset’s sole purpose is to create theatre that allows young adults the opportunity to pursue challenging roles onstage, through scripts that are current, relevant and relatable to this generation. The five roles in Rattling the Keys certainly provide some gritty and emotional challenges for the young cast. The script is excellent overall and dips into many thematic areas, all of which are highly emotionally charged and very relevant for young people in our on-edge world. It might be wise to update the references to temperature and climate given our last few months of extremes, tragedy and records - 40 degrees for four days in a row is no longer the worst! Also impressive was the inclusion in the pre-show announcement that the material had the potential to be quite upsetting or triggering and the audience was counselled to seek advice if needed. Kudos also for the move toward a ‘paperless’ production - no physical tickets and programme displayed as signage and available online.
The young cast are all quite impressive in their roles and worked collaboratively to devise and direct the immersive work set in the round in the intimate Breakout Space at The Mill. As orphaned and abandoned brother, troubled and lost Teddy, and fierce but conflicted sister Arcadia, Isaac Troisi and Zoe Muller bring depth and anguish to their roles and create a focal relationship the other characters have to carefully traverse as the dramatic situation unfolds. Matilda Butler and Albert Ngo create the characters of Billy and Kai who are in a relationship. Billy is the more fragile housemate and prone to anxiety whereas Kai is easily led by Teddy toward alcohol and heroine and methamphetamine use. I would like to see the roles of Billy and Kai given a little more direction for as solid as the acting was, they were a little too ‘put together’ to truly believe the chaos into which they descend.
The fifth character Ashton was the quiet but profound link between the two pairs. Ably and sensitively brought to life by Dylan Miller, this young person had deep attachment to the others but also a fierce need to break out of the downward spiral of despair and poverty. Ashton became the floating peacemaker, bonding with the males but not stooping to their level of chaos however also able to communicate easily with the two females urging them to move to the city with him and find a way to lead a more successful life. The relationships on stage had great authenticity without slipping into sentimentality and the script definitely supported this. Often the grouping and spacing of the players assisted to spotlight the relationships as the small space was used well to delineate areas of the house and lines of ‘combat’ between the characters. The work had a finely choreographed feel which added to the tension as the movement of the housemates from scene to scene spiralled through the space to match the ebb and flow of emotion and drama.
With minimal set, simple lighting, the cast on stage for most of the time and some effective episodic breaks punctuated with stillness and music, the audience closely experiences one hot Coober Pedy night with the five characters as they bicker, reminisce, drink and rage and Teddy and Kai graphically take drugs. All the while, there is a monumental problem to solve and personal issues to traverse. The themes in this play are big, contentious and ugly but desperately need to be aired and I believe Rattling the Keys would make a great touring show in rural areas where drug use, and particularly crystal methamphetamine, is rife, hopefully with a very well mediated discussion session after each performance.
Fortunately this play will have another season in Sydney this year during the one act play festival No:Intermission https://www.theatretravels.org/no-intermission. And I truly hope many more to come : youth theatre companies across the nation take note!
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.