Australian Theatre for Young People is 50 years young. To celebrate we have Spur Of The Moment, written by Anya Reiss, directed by erstwhile artistic director Fraser Corfield and featuring Joshua Brennan, Zoe Carides, Holly Fraser, Lucy Coleman and Felix Williamson.
The first remarkable thing about Spur? The play itself. And playwright. Reiss wrote it when only 17. It was her debut. Yet it’s about as well-observed and well-written as plays get. Charming. Funny. Poignant. And straightforward. Narrative. It’s mercifully devoid of abstraction, metaphor, symbolism and other literary and dramatic conceits. A pleasure to immerse oneself in; not because it’s easily digested, which it is, but because it’s damn fine, without shouting about itself or throwing the writer’s calling card in your face.
Second remarkable thing: the set. Adrienn Lord designed a virtual house, which made visual sense wherever one sat. So faithful, you could live in it. It draws you in, making you a fly on the wall, a hidden camera, spying on the life of the Evans family.
Ah, the Evans family. They have it all. A comfortable county home (we’re talking Surrey). An independently-minded teenage daughter. Well, almost teenage. Delilah (Fraser) is about to turn a worldly thirteen. A mind-his-own business, uni student boarder, in Daniel (Brennan). But the well-to-do Nick (Williamson) finds himself unemployed, which seems to worry Vicky (Carides) more than he, if anything. What worries her more, though, is the affair Nick had with his older, uglier boss; now ended, along with his tenure. She can’t seem to forgive him. Or look past it. The truth, as we learn, is Nick and Vick married too young and rashly and probably should never have done so, as Dexter says they’re far from a perfect match. On the other hand, perhaps they’ve just grown apart. Whatever the case, it’s making them sad. In Vicki, it’s manifest in anger and tears. In Nick, denial and nitpicking. It’s the kind of thing likely to open a few wounds for anyone watching who’s been there; which, statistically, would probably be around fifty percent, or more, of the audience.
Amidst all the outward signs, trappings and affectations of stability and affluence is the stench of decay and destitution. Caught in this maelstrom is Delilah, who chooses to focus her attention and affection on a rather arbitrary, accessible, proximate object, in older man, Daniel. Delilah’s girlfriends have already swooned in his direction, which seems to heighten her awareness. Her precocious manoeuvres don’t go unrequited, either; despite the imminent arrival of Daniel’s girlfriend of Daniel’s girlfriend, Leonie (Coleman). Leonie is, or chooses to remain, clueless, until the travesty of conventional morality is as plain and undeniable as the nose on her face.
There is considerable, well-realised comic potential and appeal in the setup but, arguably, still more tragedy. Characters and relationships are nothing if not, for the most part, credible and, as a consequence, affecting. Some of the complexities, perhaps, don’t quite come off: Daniel’s self-loathing over his weak will when it comes to Delilah is related to his history of emotional flagellation and physical self-harm, but doesn’t quite hit the mark. Nor his repeated beatups on himself for succumbing to forbidden fruit. Neither the open flirtations on the part of Vicki, towards Daniel. The problem here doesn’t seem to be performative, but textual.
But these quibbles aside, there are precious few plays or productions that communicate with as much disarming honesty and heart than Spur. It looks affectionately and compassionately at all the players, espousing empathy and understanding for the still confused, desperately trying to be whole, older teenager, or young adult, in Daniel; no less so for the younger, sexually emergent Delilah; the all-at-sea, rocked world of Vicky, a woman trying to bring her boat back into shore. Better yet, there’s no high-handed moral judgement cast over Nick, whose marital mistake, if anything, is made to look clumsy and buffoonish, rather than overtly or wilfully clandestine and deceitful. In this way, all the characters emerge as flawed, fallible and loveable. Human, I suppose. And as there isn’t so very much humanity going around, it’s comforting to have a work of theatre reach out and touch you.
Spur Of The Moment is like a warm embrace. Corfield, key cast and “creatives” deserve a big hug, too.
The details: Spur Of The Moment played ATYP’s Studio 1 on August 28 to September 14.