Theatre review: Love Letters

by **

Dear Dad

If you are going to stage a play about first loves, first blushes, and Love Letters, and want to add a touch of class to the mood, do it in the Fairfax Studio. The intimate confines of this Arts Centre venue are well suited for the innermost thoughts of the present generation of highly promising adolescents.

And the stunning performances in Sarah Austin and Hannah Liddy’s production of Kylie Trounson’s lively, if occasionally darkly humorous, play enthrall the audience, and make many a parent and grandparent handsomely proud.

Through a series of tightly-crafted vignettes, this 65-minute, one-act play portrays all the emotions of love and insecurity, self-consciousness and heartache that young people today live through and experience.

Yet, despite various references to prevailing phenomena more intense now than ever before — such as single-parent households, inter-racial marriages, relocation of families, and technology — the sentiments depicted here transcend time and age. As such, they conjure in the adult audience as much of that warm and fuzzy feeling, as they do (so rapturously) amongst their younger counterparts.

Over the course of the play — spanning three years (as implied by three school photo shoots) — we glimpse into the social life and private thoughts of multiple teenage characters, played by nine exceptional young talents hailing from St Martins Youth Arts Centre.

We meet the girl (Isabella Noonan) obsessed with heartthrob celebrity singer, Justin Bieber, who in her mind’s eye is like a Christmas tree on which she lavishes attention, and love, and awe, and who in her mind’s ear questions whether she’s in love with him, or with love.

There is the young man (Tom Hughes) bouncing with the ecstasy that he is in love with a woman his friend (Oscar Shuter) tells him is (as illusory as) the phoenix.

And there is the lass (Lois Jiang-Scott) who is crying to her mother (Klaudia Jonasz) about her pain, as she clings to a windcheater, a pair of socks, and orange peel, left behind by the boy who broke her heart with a text message.

Amidst what seems like a smattering of stories, however, one narrative is carried across the length of the play: a girl (Mina Misic) asks a boy from school (Zelman Cressy-Gladwin) to write her a letter, to which she agrees to reply in drawing or dance. Her unveiling of a “reverse time-capsule” that reveals their shared destiny as a couple in the final scenes strips them of anymore uncertainty, and, of angst, before his family moves away.

If there’s a whiff of Harry Potter here, there’s almost certainly also a scent of Roald Dahl. Trounson dips into the more morbid reaches of her ingenuity to tell the story of a boy (Max Bursztynski) who even after suffering from remorse in an unlikely purgatory, is sentenced to hell for killing his girlfriend out of his own insecurity.

And then there is the lad (Texus Kent) who compares the grating experience of a jaded relationship to slicing off bits of the finger when one’s grating carrot, triggering laughter laced with wince.

The highlight, though, is in the musical interludes interspersed throughout the production. Apart from a duet and an ensemble rendition, Bursztynski’s recorded piano accompaniment, and his live contribution at the grand finale will have to count as the most memorable.

Nevertheless, Trounson’s delicate working into the tale, the young people’s unexpected sensitivity to the trauma of those around them, and Austin’s magnificent choreography of adolescents in the school yard and of them growing out of their clothes, are just as remarkable.

Still, the loudest accolades should be reserved for the nine young artistes, who in effect are teenagers, acting as adults, and playing themselves. The ability to reflect on their lives whilst in the thick of it, is truly inspiring, and deserves due recognition.

For the rest of us in the adult audience, nonetheless, Love Letters evokes feelings of those bygone years that despite the confusion, the anxiety, and the awkwardness, are remembered as a period of sun-dappled frolicking, freckly innocence, and beauty in song.