Production 27, Centrestage Youth Theatre’s latest play, explores the music industry and whether art and commerce can exist side by side. The themes are surprisingly deep for what initially seems like a youth theatre musical, but bit by bit exposes itself as something more challenging and complex. The plot centres on three young aspiring musicians, the spirited and driven Lyn (Danielle Payet), downtrodden, anxiety ridden Charlie (Josiah Hilbig) and the arrogant Amy (Abbey Hutcheon). All three meet while auditioning for an agency, but are quickly and reluctantly formed into a band designed to be the next big thing. From there, three very different people with very different ideas of what music should be are forced to decide to what degree they’re willing to quash their individual ambitions for the promise of instant fame.
The performances and singing are very strong; Payet provides a likeable centre to the story and the strongest voice of the three, Hutcheon initially seems to struggle with a highly unlikable character but as the play goes on and Amy softens, the performance rings more true, and her blistering cover of a certain Nirvana song is a goosebumps-inducing moment. In terms of performance, however, Josiah Hilbig is the clear standout, depicting a tormented, confused character torn between impressing his careless parents, the desire for fame and the fear that he is selling out his own voice. The performance is immensely powerful and moving; let down only by some weaknesses in the character as written. The play seems to want us to believe that Charlie’s parents are despicable monsters responsible for their son’s pain, but they never really do or say anything awful enough to warrant the choices the character makes. Consequently, the play’s final flirtation with tragedy feels hollow and frustrating; luckily it quickly course corrects in time for a denouement that fits far more with what we’ve seen go before.
Across the board, the rest of the cast have a lot of fun with generally one note characters. Thomas O’Hare, Cassandra Dutton and Ryan O’Hare delight in chewing the scenery as larger than life music industry figures, while Eleanor Timms and Tyler Pedersen Hor provide the bulk of the thematic discussion as a couple of rock junkies; however the characters as written are so irritating that a lot of their interesting points become somewhat blurred. That said, it’s clear that their depiction is at least a partial indictment of the kind of music snobs who look down on people for simply enjoying what they listen to, irrespective of perceived quality. Still, the cast give their all and the musical numbers, a combination of excellent original songs and well-chosen covers, are uniformly fantastic, bolstered by a live band that keeps the energy high through all of them.
The set is simplistic, mostly made up of black flats adorned with images and quotes from famous musicians. This allows for quick manoeuvring of set pieces into place and means that the space can swiftly transform from an office to a living room to a stadium. Lighting, especially some great use of strobes, works to keep the illusions alive. The sound was a little patchy; sometimes the backing music drowned out the voices of the performers, but this happened rarely and by and large the musical numbers were clear and I would defy anyone not to get at least a little bit caught up in them.
The script, by Athula Mamaborupodakqua, moves well and is at its best when it uses the situation of the characters to explore themes of what art should be and how it so often can be compromised by an industry that cares little for individuality if it doesn’t promise money. Some of the dialogue is a little on the nose and certain late developments are telegraphed in clumsy ways, while aforementioned inconsistencies between the behaviour and apparent motivations of the characters are a little jarring. Overall however, it’s a compelling, interesting plot that keeps you interested to see what will happen next, anchored by three likeable characters. The play never loses focus of its central figures or themes, and this makes for a engaging, thought provoking and entertaining piece of theatre.
Production 27 is playing at the 1812 Theatre until Saturday 23rd January.
For tickets: www.1812theatre.com.au