Amateur theatre requires nothing more than a little bit of leg room, an open mind and an empty Thursday evening. Plays and playwrights meanwhile take years to grow, and the best aid you can offer them is to recline and appreciate their process. There’s little point in comparing a brand new piece by local writer Nic Miller or an upcoming director like Olli Wilson-Smith to Euripides’ Bacchae, for example. But with some tweaking it could get there one day. No, the key is to nurture a play and provide provoking questions to make the artistic team consider where they could go next – which is what I hope to do with this review.
Down & Out follows two teenage lovebirds who struggle with self-harm, abuse and projecting their dialogue above the full orchestral rehearsals going on in the adjacent theatre. This narrative is marketed as an educational exploration of teenage depression, and what it means to suffer from self-diagnosed issues. Issues that often require much more help than the characters are willing to seek. The black-box intimacy of what we see (combined with my nabbed front-row seat) therefore made the play’s themes a real smack-in-the-face, and the minimal set and talented cast showed great potential.The actors involved definitely have the skill required to morph this play into a grander-scale production in the future.
At its current stage, I would say this production likens well to the emotions of a hormonal teenager. Or like a clarified version of that. So Down & Out definitely has a future in the educational sphere. It just needs a touch of polish. I’d think I would ask Miller what his key message is. And perhaps suggest he focus on one main idea instead of muddying the message with an array of self-harm, abusive relationships, joy-seeking and suicide.
The writing is definitely intellectually stimulating, don’t get me wrong. And the characters have been built on solid grounds. But the actual words need a slight redraft to steer the piece away from its current mesh of naturalism and abstract-humour. The key to Down & Out’s developmental future is making clear decisions as to what they want the play to be: real or over-the-top; smart and witty or deep and clean; concise and to-the-point or a blanket for many different messages.
But, and it’s a very big round “but,” we have to remember that this is a new production. We’re only at the start of a very long journey. Taking that into consideration, I think the company worked immensely well, and the artistic team are definite candidates for longevity in the business. I for one can vouch for this production going a long way, and once again, I urge you to just give amateur theatre a chance.