The Trials by Dawn King
Directed by Luke Rogers. Lighting designer Ethan Hamill. Sound designer & composer Patrick Haesler. Assistant director Emily Austin. Stage manager Rhiley Winnett. Assistant stage manager Emma Rynehart. Cast: Michael Sparks, Zsuzsi Soboslay, Elaine Noon, Edith Baggoley , Imogen Bigsby-Chamberlin, Genevieve Bradley, Alexi Clark Mitchell, Kat Dunkerley, Matthew Hogan, Joshua James, Aadhya Karthik, Sebastian Leigh, Tara Saxena, Phoebe Silberman, Jacqueline Tatam. Canberra Youth Theatre. The Courtyard Studio. Canberra Theatre Centre. May 19-28 2023. Bookings 62752700 or www.canberratheatre.com.au.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
If Dawn King’s intention is to provoke thought and incite response to her play The Trials, she certainly succeeds with a play that is confronting, riveting and at times intensely disturbing. Luke Rogers’ direction is powerfully incisive and the cast of Canberra Youth Theatre’s production commit themselves wholeheartedly to the furious debate that centres on the trials of three members of the older generation by a jury made up of twelve young people of various ages and backgrounds. Their task is to judge the actions of an advertising executive (Michael Sparks), a member of the Greens (Zsuzsi Soboslay) and a high ranking employee of an oil company (Elaine Noon). They all stand accused of ignoring the peril of climate change and contributing to the use of fossil fuels and the dangerous emissions that they have unleashed on the planet and its inhabitants. If judged guilty each defendant will be executed. If innocent they will continue to live. This is the premise that erupts in confrontation, argument and a deadly power struggle, sparked by each adult’s defence and the differing views of the jury. It is a powder keg of opinion and emotion. Rogers has placed the audience on either side of the promenade stage, thus lending the action a gladiatorial impact where we the audience are also compelled to become members of a jury of observers.
|Michael Sparks in The Trials|
King carefully creates a diverse group of characters. There is Ren (Kat Dunkerley), the primary voter, responsible for observing the rules of the deliberation and determining the outcome of the votes. There is Noah (Joshua James) who is unwavering in his determination to condemn each adult to death. He is supported by Gabi (Genevieve Bradley) whose fierce aggression is a powerful persuader of the impressionable such as Zoe (Jacqueline Tatam) the youngest member of the jury. Then there is Maaya (Tara Saxena) who fights for reason in an irrational debate. She is supported by Xander (Sebastian Leigh), a sensitive poet with a fervent belief in the role of the arts within a society. The scene is set for conflicting views that can only be resolved by a majority vote. Each accused is given the opportunity to plead their case before they are taken away to await their fate and the members of the youth jury have only fifteen minutes to deliberate and reach a decision. As Maya points out, this is a ludicrous amount of time to arrive at a properly reasoned and debated outcome but then King’s premise that the young people are capable of arriving at a just verdict is also flawed. She cleverly exposes the flaws in their judgement and the injustice of a death penalty. Her antithetical battleground offers no solution, no redemption and no rehabilitation. It is a cruel and myopic view of a justice system created by adults and simply imitated by the youth intent on finding a solution to the terrifying impact of climate change and pollution of the planet.
|Zsuzsi Soboslay in The Trials|
Rogers keeps the action taut and the young cast play out the issue with fervour and conviction. In true Brechtian tradition this is Epic Theatre where an audience is compelled not to sit back and be entertained but to become involved in the issue, to weigh up the evidence presented by the defendant and the jury and be inspired to act. In this respect Canberra Youth Theatre’s production of The Trials is entirely successful and the impact will stay with you long after you have left the theatre. It “must give pause for thought” and hopefully give rise to action.
Canberra Youth Theatre’s mission is to engage young people in intelligent and challenging theatre. “We advocate for and amplify the voices of young people, providing a space for them to discover and express their creative selves.” The Trials certainly does this and it is evident from the strength of the young people’s performances that they are absolutely dedicated to fulfilling the aims of good youth theatre. I am left however with an uneasy response to the ultimate solution. King offers no constructive resolution to the dilemma. Are we witnessing the inherent frailty in the human condition irrespective of age or gender or status? If part of youth theatre’s aim is to encourage collaboration, where is the collaboration in King’s play? A fifteen minute debate that results in a death penalty does not appease the generation divide. I sit in silence to witness my own conviction. I am provoked to thought and resolved to action in the hope that the new generation will actively pursue the ideals of an urgent and new awakening.
|Elaine Noon in The Trials|
Photos by Ben Appleton