Teen rage is a palpable and well-remembered state that is all too often neglected when it comes to theatre. So it is refreshing to see Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of The Violent Outburst That Drew Me To You give it the stage time it deserves, without being undermining or condescending.
Directed by Prue Clark, Finegan Kruckemeyer’s play follows a few weeks in the life of Connor (Harry Tseng), a sixteen-year-old boy with a lot of anger and nowhere to put it. His anger is pretty run-of-the-mill: doors are slammed, desks are flipped and parents are shouted at. At their wits’ end, his parents deposit him in the forest to spend a week alone in a log cabin. There he meets Lotte, who is also angry, but who is the first person Connor can feel through things with.
The play is charming and funny, and captures the angst of adolescence with poignancy and earnestness. This is a play for young people, but one that will tug at adults’ heartstrings as much as make them laugh. There is a respect and fondness for the mixed-up feelings of adolescence in this play that does justice to teenage hood in much the same vein as Tim Minchin’s Matilda did for childhood.
Harry Tseng’s performance is heart-warming as Connor walks the line between raging, earnest teen and vulnerable, confused young adult. His anger sometimes slides towards cliché, and it would have been nice to see some variation in his rage; at times Connor comes across as nothing more than a spoiled young man who does nothing to earn our respect or empathy. But this is, after all, a cornerstone of adolescence, and the somewhat one-note acting works fine given the context. When he meets Lotte and his anger softens into earnest infatuation, Tseng is charmingly earnest and it provides a great counterpoint to his rage.
The remaining two cast members – Izabella Yena and Josh Price – are impressively chameleonic in their roles as parents, aunt and uncle, teachers, and teenagers. Yena is the stand-out of the cast, bringing individuality and attention to each of her characters, no matter how small. Her performance as Lotte is nuanced and beautifully observed, evoking the sadness and rage of teenage girlhood as well as the hope and love that lies beneath the surface. Price is excellent in all of his roles, and is a wonderful comic. He and Tseng are particularly well-matched when they are playing teenaged best friends, and uncle and nephew. The two relationships couldn’t be more different but Price takes care with each of them and makes their scenes together some of the most touching in the play.
Romanie Harper’s playful set design of three doors works well to evoke a myriad of places. The space transforms from garage to bedroom to forest, inviting the audience to build the world along with the actors. Ian Moorhead’s sound design and Amelia Lever-Davidson’s lighting design are evocative and work well with the set.
The Violent Outburst That Drew Me To You is a play that doesn’t talk down to its audience, but treats teenagers’ emotional lives with respect and humour. Theatre for young people of this quality doesn’t come around very often, and it is refreshing and exciting when it does.
Images: James Henry