Review by Bella Wellstead
In the vibrant halls of Roselands High School plays out a violent tale of deceit and revenge. A retelling of Shakespeare’s Richard III, Teenage Dick tells the story of Richard Gloucester, a junior in high school with a great deal of cunning, enormous ambitions, and hemiplegia. Taunted by his ableist classmates and fed up with the powerlessness of his position as junior class secretary, he decides to run for class president. In the winter of his discontent, Richard plans to lie, cheat, romance, and betray his way to the top – no matter who he hurts along the way.
Directed by Dan Graham and assistant directed by Pearl Junor, Teenage Dick horrifies and delights in equal measure. The production elegantly balances sympathy with disdain, villainy with victimhood. It wryly compels us to contemplate a conflict faced by the powerful throughout time:
Is it better to be loved, or to be feared?
Dean Nash’s performance as Richard ‘Dick’ Gloucester is delectably unsettling. With a self-conscious physicality, he perfectly captures the character’s youth and vulnerability. Repeatedly, we see him establish a façade of gentle uncertainty only to undercut it moments later with a wicked flicker in his eye.
Rocco Forester and Gemma Dart play Richard’s political rivals – Eddie Ivy and Clarissa Duke. Brutish football player Eddie (Forester) possesses lashings of confidence that he wields expertly as Roselands’ existing junior president. Running a hand through his hair and gallivanting across the stage with puffed chest, he charms the susceptible. By delivering taint-rupturing wedgies and bellowing slurs, he suppresses the unpopular few who see through his ineptitude as a leader.
Clarissa Duke (Dart) is many things: a high achiever, a passionate Christian, and a well-meaning patroniser. However, she is prominently, and primarily, a shrill and excessively emotional tantrum-haver. Gemma Dart’s screaming protestations and stamping feet have a thrillingly jarring juvenility about them. Presented alongside her disdain for Eddie and quenchless thirst for power, these tantrums set Clarissa up to be effortlessly manipulated by Richard.
Holly Jane Cohle plays another of Richard’s classmates – Barbara Buckingham. Buck is politically neutral, conflict avoidant, and a brilliant source for wit. Cohle’s performance expertly captures the simultaneous energy and shiftlessness of the sarcastic teenager. Buck provides a delightful counterbalance to Richard’s self-serious scheming.
As the Roselands English teacher Elizabeth York, Amy Victoria Brooks is satisfyingly naïve. Spurred on by her own ambitions to fund the school drama program, she uncritically supports Richard’s bid for class president and lets various transgressions slip through the cracks.
Ensemble performances by Keira Fairley and Thom Blake are also amusing. Fairley throws up middle fingers as she fulfils her assistant stage manager duties and carries set pieces on and off the stage. Blake is the ultimate hype bro, hollering in response to, and expertly executing friendship handshakes with, his best mate Eddie.
Chloe Ho performs as Anne Margaret – Eddie’s ex-girlfriend, whom Richard intends to play as a pawn in his bid for presidential power. Ho’s delicacy and patience work well to complicate the self-centredness of Richard’s ambition. However, this delicacy is carried throughout the play, distancing the audience from a deep engagement with the character’s pain. Where I hoped to see devastation, there was simply sadness. Where I wished I’d witness fury, there was simply disappointment.
Set and costume design by Holly Jane Cohle are magnificent. The costumes are unified by a grey and purple colour palette that serves as a uniform for the students at Roselands High School. Within this cohesive palette, each character is granted different silhouettes and materials that align brilliantly with their personalities. Goodie-two-shoes Clarissa wears a modest houndstooth cardigan, whilst Buck sports a cropped denim jacket adorned with patches and pins. Details such as this are present and brilliantly executed across all of the costumes, with a school mascot emblazoned onto Eddie’s letterman jacket and a felt crown running the perimeter of Richard’s baseball cap.
The stage is bordered on one side by a painted brick wall. It sports Roselands High’s vibrant coat of arms. A hot pink rose sprouts from the centre of the image and a stream of rich purple paint pools at the base of the wall. At the back of the stage is a bank of bright lockers in blue, pink, and yellow, and in the corner, a basketball hoop hangs high above the actors’ heads. The vibrancy of the colour palette, alongside the thick black lines that divide it, cartoonify the high school setting and further heighten the social drama that occurs within.
Beautifully designed, thoughtfully directed, and incredibly funny, Teenage Dick is a fantastic production that asks how far one would go to prove themselves in a world that undermines them.