One thing that never ceases to intrigue me about the tiny little
stage is how malleable it is. No two
productions ever feel quite the same – it seems bigger or smaller, grander or
more intimate, a different shape, as though we’re in a different (larger)
theatre entirely; it all depends on any one production’s stagecraft, direction
and energy, the way the tiny diamond space is used. Griffin
In The Violent Outburst That Drew Me To You, presented by Siren Theatre Company with Griffin Independent, the space is filled by Jasmine Christies’ circular curtain set which is drawn and opened as needed, becoming a shadow-screen and a clever framing device, allowing for a playful sense of theatricality and youthful exuberance. Old wooden school chairs, simple items of costume and Hartley T A Kemp’s story-book lighting complete the illusion and the show, an uninterrupted seventy minutes, feels rather like a pop-up book, albeit not quite one for younger children.
Written by Finegan Kruckemeyer, a prolific playwright with over seventy commissioned plays to his name, The Violent Outburst That Drew Me To You takes us deep into the teenage mind and tries to fathom the murky depths of anger and frustration that bubble and boil there, tries to stop the ticking time bomb that is Connor Nicholls’ nerves. Cleverly, though, Kruckemeyer’s play never descends into sentimentality, nor is it patronising or condescending towards its teenage subjects, or the younger members of the audience. Like most of Kruckemeyer’s plays, there’s a warm-heartedness here, a generosity, a desire to help and heal, a warmth that comes through understanding and sharing. As Lotte says halfway through Part Two, it’s not so much about feeling angry, but being frustrated that no one listens or takes you seriously; they see you as a child even though you feel much older inside your head, if only they would treat you the way you wanted them to treat you. There is anger here too, cleverly simulated through lighting and shadow puppets, and the feeling of being angry, but it is used and focused in a way so as to make a point rather than being destructive.
Director Kate Gaul has assembled a strong ensemble who double (and sometimes triple) roles with the exception of Michael Cutrupi’s Connor. There is a rambunctious energy, a pent-up want to get away from everything that annoys him, a feeling that is released when, in Part Two, he finds himself in the woods on the outskirts of the city and meets Lotte, a girl even angrier than himself. The ensemble – Emily Ayoub, Renee Heys, Natalia Ladyko and Antony Weir – are all superb, and more than match Cutrupi’s energy and verve. You only need to look at the grins on their faces in Ash Bee’s tightly choreographed opening (set to Daryl Wallis’ percussive and energetic music) to be able to let yourself get caught up in the story, and what a reward it is. As Kruckemeyer’s scenes flow and merge into one another, Gaul’s cast transform from parents to teenagers to uncles and aunts to mechanics, bus drivers and teachers; it is this fluidity that gives the play a slightly other quality, an almost-hallucinatory effect, which does not feel out of place in the tumult of the teenage mind. There is a wonderful moment, right at the start of Part Two, when Connor’s parents (Weir and Ayoub) take him to the woods (whilst listening to a four-cassette recording of Stephen Fry’s autobiography) before bursting into song. Wallis’ music here sits perfectly within the surrounds of his other ‘incidental’ music and sound design, and the moment is suffused with a wonderful surreality which only heightens Connor’s confusion and feelings of not fitting in. When Connor meets Lotte (played by Heys, Ayoub and Ladyko in turn), not only does he find his someone angrier than himself, but he finds a way out, finds a mirror in which he sees himself reflected for the first time and it gives him pause for thought. The scenes between Lotte and Connor that form the bulk of Part Two are beautifully written and never seem forced or un-real, and have a generosity to them which, like so much of Kruckemeyer’s writing, is beautiful and perfectly attuned to his audience and his story.
If there is one minor quibble with this Violent Outburst, it’s that the ending comes too soon; there could quite easily have been another scene (or two) before the exuberant ending, itself a reprise of the opening number, in which perhaps Connor’s parents come to find him again. The promise and set up in the story Connor tells Lotte is charged with so much potential, the possibilities of what happens next are tantalising, though perhaps that is in fact the point of the scene – it’s the possibility of what happens next that counts; to show it or at least a version of it would be to undermine Connor’s story, to undermine the scenes between him and Lotte in the woods.
Outburst is a well-paced seventy minutes of exuberant, energetic and physical
theatre. While it is funny it is never gratuitous or at another’s expense, just
as it is serious without descending into sentimentality, and its warm and
generous heart is something to take notice of, embrace, and savour.
Theatre playlist: 29. Heartbreak Hill, Michael Yezerski