Fading by Laura Lethlean.
Directed by Katie Cawthorne. Assistant director Stefanie Lekkas. Lighting Ethan Hamill. Additional sound. Kimmo Vennonen. Piano recording Elektra Spencer. Canberra Youth Theatre. Courtyard Studio. Canberra Theatre Centre. September 12 – 15 2018.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
A solitary swing is the only item of set upon the stage at the Courtyard Studio where Canberra Youth Theatre is staging Laura Lethlean’s play Fading. Tim Minchin recently remarked that he defies anyone to pass by a swing and not be lured back in time to the joyful experience of floating through the air, carefree and swathed in the wonderment of childhood. Lethlean takes us back to the wistful, happy era of curious excitement, enveloping us in nostalgia and the memory of playfulness, fantasy and wide-eyed optimism. The ensemble enter, fresh faced and eager in their anticipation of a promising future, guided by an authority figure with the responsibility of teaching the child the expanding avenues of their universe. It is the time of innocence, soon to be invaded by the advancing perils of the river of adolescence and the torrential tides of adulthood. The trickling water of childhood, tingling the toes to delighted giggles rises with alarming alacrity, dragging the youth beneath the surface as the playful games turn into an ominous recollection of the childhood story, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and the playful chant turns to a daunting challenge of equally fearful choices that ultimately can only be faced by embracing the secure support of community.
Canberra Youth Theatre’s talented ensemble, under the imaginative and energetic direction of Katie Cawthorne, once again have created a work that epitomizes with integrity and skill the role of youth theatre in reflecting through the theatre arts the aspirations, dreams, hopes and fears of young people. The outstanding ensemble of players in Fading stand at the cusp of adulthood, having passed through the imaginative playfulness of childhood, the angst and confusion of adolescence to reach the trepidation of adulthood. Through a series of effectively staged vignettes, the cast play out the shifting emotions and desires. Lethlean’s pithy and direct dialogue of one liners, supported by the committed input by the young actors is dreamlike during childhood, urgent during adolescence and hopefully resolved on the precipice of adulthood. Individuality still survives amidst the pressures to conform, but we are left with a feeling of loss and fading dreams.
Fading is the unabashed voice of the tribe. It will resonate with the force of recollection, at times nostalgic, at times fearful, at times courageous and independent. Those of the tribe in the audience will identify. Those who have passed through and survived will empathise and all will reflect on the fading of the times and the experience. For the cast, there is catharsis and the search for identity. Cawthorne creates a theatre of physical impulse setting up a chain reaction as the cast traverse the stage, gather in tight groups, and echo repetitive calls of the group. The staging is dynamic in its propulsion, offering strength in unity and assertive commitment to Lethlean’s text and Cawthorne’s direction.
Fading is not the stereotypical well-made play. Its structure is purposefully reflective, though not didactic and it exudes honesty and commitment. As such, it demands earnest attention from the audience who are not required to follow a plot or immerse themselves in the story of a particular character. They are invited, in Brechtian terms, to listen, watch, hear and consider. This requires excellent vocal and physical technique and although the physical work in this show is outstanding, and the commitment to the work highly commendable, vocal work tends to be uneven, except in the case of certain members of the ensemble. With a work so episodic and fast paced, it is imperative that it communicates effectively through body, thought and voice.
Notwithstanding this, Canberra Youth Theatre’s production of Fading is another fine example of the excellent work created by the young people and their tutors at CYT. It is relevant, insightful and a theatrically dynamic and entertaining example of its genre.