For those who don’t teach, or who aren’t close to anyone with school age children, the term ‘Helicopter’ in relationship to parenting may not be a familiar one. Basically it describes a parent who hovers so closely over their child that they are never out of reach, always there to console, defend and manage their life, whether they’re needed or not. In Angela Betzien’s new work for the MTC this concept is shown taken to its dark extreme.
Jack’s Mum thinks she is caring for her teenage son with her protective deeds. Jack, who is bullied by his private school peers, manipulates his parents with a faked eating disorder and outlandish behaviour. Jack’s Dad works for a pharmaceutical company and together with his wife has built a six-bedroom, four-bathroom Grand Designs style home, which also happens to be next door to a family of East African refugees. Thomas and his sister considered themselves lucky to have escaped their war torn country, but they didn’t expect to have crimes of an equally dark nature perpetrated upon them, when Jack’s Dad fatefully and carelessly backs his luxury SUV out of the driveway.
Betzien’s script is loaded with brilliantly observed local behaviours and authentic tales of horrors from South Sudan. Always twisting and turning in unexpected ways this play is anything but predictable. At times, this does make it difficult to understand what direction the story is taking but eventually it settles down into a dark and nightmarish morality tale that leaves the audience intrigued to its last moment.
The cast of four all match each other in strength and conviction of performance, but each in their own way bring something special to the whole. Daniela Farinacci is disturbingly recognisable as the deliciously smothering and neurotic Jack’s Mum. Paul Denny is required to straddle both dark comedy and intense tragedy as Jack’s Dad and does it with extraordinary skill. Young MTC newcomer Charles Grounds brings authenticity in bucket loads to the Machiavellian Jack. While Terry Yeboah is equal parts quiet dignity, and frightening strength and intensity.
Director Leticia Caceres has clearly worked closely with her cast to draw out these extremely strong performances. Caceres makes excellent use of Tanja Beer’s intriguing, yet simple set, including some startling and unnervingly cute special effects that bring a wonderful tingle to the spine. Perhaps a stronger hand could have reigned in the incongruent elements that give Betzien’s script a lack of focus in the first act, but overall, this is a successful production.
At 90 minutes and with a gripping structure, this work is perfectly formed for both the MTC’s Education Season and the wider public equally.