Sunday, August 13, 2023

You Can'tTell Anyone


You Can’t Tell Anyone by Joanna Richards.  Canberra Youth Theatre, at Canberra Theatre Centre, Courtyard Studio, August 10-20 2023.
Playscript published by Currency Press 2023.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
August 12

Gwen – Ella Buckley; Tilly – Emily O’Mahoney; Jeremy – Jake Robinson
Willa – Jessi Gooding; Luke – Isaiah Prichard; Kat – Paris Scharkie
Benny – Lachlan Houen; Nicole – Breanna Kelly

Director – Caitline Baker
Set & Costume Designer – Kathleen Kershaw; Lighting Designer – Ethan Hamill
Sound Designer & Composer – Patrick Haesler
Stage Manager – Rhiley Winnett

Canberra Youth Theatre’s Emerging Playwright Commission was a new initiative in 2021, “offering a professional commission for an emerging Australian playwright to create a new full-length work that brings young voices and stories to the stage.”  

With a background as an actor, comedian, and writer who has studied with the Moscow Art Theatre School, the American Repertory Theatre Institute, and The Groundlings Theatre School in Los Angeles, Canberran  Joanna Richards was awarded the commission of $16,200 for You Can’t Tell Anyone after being selected from over 50 applications from across the country.

In response, Richards said “The opportunity to write material for young people – about what is arguably one of the most formative times in any person’s life – is such a gift. I am excited to create a work that is intellectually meaty and performatively fun for an ensemble to work on. I am indebted to the Canberra Youth Theatre for giving me this opportunity.

Being a teenager is all about discovering who you are and where you fit in the world. I am interested in writing a work that speaks to the complicated process of becoming yourself, and how much more complicated that is in a world where we are constantly on display. Taking place at a high school party, “You Can’t Tell Anyone” explores what it means to be yourself and what it means to be a friend. Drawing on philosophical concepts, the piece will challenge our understandings of truth and deception, empathy and selfishness, and the extent to which we have control over how we are seen.

Her aim in writing sets up a substantial challenge for young performers playing essentially themselves at the stage of finishing secondary school, looking back a little way to playing truth games as a mixed-sex group of younger teenagers, while now dealing with the new reality as young adults facing up to individual independent responsibility.  

I certainly still remember camping out on Mt Solitary in the Blue Mountains talking about the state of the world all night in 1960, and picking up my own daughter from an Aranda house (at her request) in the early hours in 1985.  “I only drank milk,” she told me.

Canberra Youth Theatre - You Can't Tell Anyone
Canberra CityNews


So, is the play and its performance a success, considering among the goals of Canberra Youth Theatre is to “Deliver opportunities for young people to collaborate, be creative, and develop their own artistic practice.”?

The performance I saw yesterday afternoon absolutely said ‘Yes”.

The play is indeed ‘intellectually meaty and performatively fun’, and also emotionally complex as the eight characters play the Paranoia Game.  “Who is the meanest person in the group?”  “Who is the creepy one?”  Seems innocent enough when you play it age 12, but at age 18, in a world of social media and education in history (“You really don’t understand what holocaust means, do you?”), the very room – where they all had partied before and is now full of memories and significances – takes on a life of its own.

They are held there by their reflections in the mirrors.  They can’t escape.  The fantasy becomes real, just as they can’t escape responsibility in the real world.

What impresses me is to see how creating the performance of the art – which shows intellectually how the world is falling apart – so successfully brings the performers together as a bonded group.  The great success of the play-writing and the play-acting is to make us feel so strongly with and for the young people – those represented in the characters and those creating those characters – as we understand how daunting their future is at the personal and the world-wide level, and how there is great hope as they “collaborate, be creative, and develop their own artistic practice.”

Let us not let the young people down.  Just tell everyone.