Saturday, April 9, 2022



Dags by Debra Oswald. 

Directed by Luke Rogers. Set and costume designer Aislinn King. Lighting designer Anyony Hateley. Assistant director Sophie Tallis.Stage Manager Rhiley Winnett. ASM Ashley Pope. Intimacy Coordinator Shondelle Pratt. Canberra Youth Theatre. Courtyard Studio. Canberra Theatre Centre. April 9-13. 2022.

 Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

It has come as a shock to realize that thirty eight years have passed since I saw Debra Oswald’s Dags premiere at Canberra Youth Theatre in 1984, directed at the time by Gail Kelly. In honour of Canberra Youth Theatre’s fiftieth birthday, a remarkable achievement in itself, CYT has revived Oswald’s internationally renowned play about teenagers and the trials and tribulations of charting the testy time of adolescence. Artistic Director Luke Rogers has produced a turbo charged revival that ricochets with vitality and relevance. It is youth theatre at its very best, dynamic, honest and relevant to the highly skilled teenage performers. Oswald’s script is succinct and episodic, incredibly real, funny and so very true. Even after such a long time Rogers’ vibrant, tight and fast paced production is as relevant as it was all those years ago. The times have changed. New technology of the digital revolution has transformed young people’s lives and yet the traumas, doubts, insecurities and peer group pressures are as pertinent today as they were in the Eighties. Rogers has sensibly kept his production to the Eighties era.  Pop and rock songs of the time accompany the slick and tightly choreographed set changes. Not a moment of this rattling paced performance is allowed to lag, while at the same time keeping an audience immersed in the lives of the young people, perilously charting their course through this time in their lives.

Lily Welling as Wendy andJade Breen as Gillian

Central to the story is the character of Gillian. With a paper bag over her head and with only two small openings for the eyes, Gillian (Jade Breen) confesses to the audience at the opening of the show that she is ugly and fat. She devours comfort food and sweets to dull the anxious pain of her imagined vulnerability. Sister Bronwyn (Jessi Gooding) and her boyfriend Biggles (Elliot Cleaves) struggle to persuade her to snap out of it and recognize her qualities. But acne and insecurity are powerful forces of self-doubt and poor body image, made even worse by the crush she has on Adam (Matthew Hogan) who is in a relationship with the beautiful and sexy Karen (Sophie Blackburn). What hope is there for a girl with such low self-esteem?  Best friend Wendy (Lily Welling) offers some consolation until Lynette (Hannah Cornelia) draws her into the group’s influence. Life is tough for anyone who doesn’t fit in. Friend Monica (Breanna Kelly) ignores the pressure of the peers, and happily digs her spoon into the ice cream container. Biggles and Bronnie set up a date with Biggles’ brother Derek (William Best).They share a mutual alienation from the tribe. But it is Adam who has Gillian’s heart until a reality check becomes the stimulus for epiphany and Gillian realizes in the abandonment and revelry of a party that the troublesome, insecure and frightening world of the teenager will pass. Asserting herself, discarding her fantasy and facing a new future, Gillian looks to the world of the adult with confidence and resolve.

Matthew Hogan as Adam Jade Breen as Gillian 

Rogers gives his young ensemble their heads and they relish a play that speaks to them and gives them voice. In the tradition of excellent youth theatre and exceptionally mature performance. In a finely tuned ensemble, some performances stand out. Breen’s pivotal role charts the agonizing journey though the teenage years with boundless energy and authentic sensitivity.  Elliot Cleaves’ rock musician Tony is a comical gem, contrasting neatly with his  concerned and supportive performance as Bronnie’s boyfriend Biggles. Every moment of this production shines a spotlight on the torments and defence mechanisms of every gneration‘s  adolescent youth. Gillian’s journey offers hope and assurance that even a dag can be transformed, even if that may take a little help from their friends. Canberra Youth Theatre has shown under Rogers that it is fifty years young, with a finger on the pulse and hope for the future in the heart.