This review originally appeared on www.lowdown.net.au
The basement Thinking Space of RiAus seems the perfect place to host Rocket Town.
In the Australian Defense Force Village of Woomera, Jess (Dee Easton) is the only fifteen-year old. She spends her time working in the Heritage Centre and drinking beers in the park. “We make our own fun here,” she pithily explains.
When awkward science-geek, fifteen-yea-old Josh (Sam Calleja), moves to town with his physicist mother, he quickly comes across Jess, and they befriend each other–being very sure to state they are not friends. Friends always leave.
Playwright and Director Emily Steel moved to Australia from London in 2010. In her director’s notes she talks of how she walked into Woomera and thought, “This is a place to write a play about.” But despite these origins, this play feels organically “home grown”, focused on a teenaged relationship in outback Australia; it has an absolute air of being Australian.
This is more than Steel writing a play for actors with Australian accents. It’s genuinely respecting and paying attention to a vernacular, and being so taken by a small town that she has painted a picture with respect through learning its history.
Developed through conversations with people living in Woomera, it feels to me, an Adelaide girl, that Steel has genuinely taught me a little more about a town in my own backyard.
Three scenes- the meeting and blossoming of a friendship; the pain of each getting ready to leave – create the narrative. While towards the ends of the first two scenes the structure starts to fall away as the premise and goal of each situation seems to have been achieved, the overall structure is strong.
The script is filled with modern influences: facebook, Twilight, email, text. While the script is always focused around the live interaction with the two characters, their relationship to 2011, to technology in 2011, and to each other in 2011 isn’t ignored, as is so often the case in much modern literature.
With some great one-liners (“My mum doesn’t negotiate with terrorists. She doesn’t even negotiate with me.”) and some cringe-worthy ones (“I have a life! And I have a Second Life.”), Steel has created two characters for which the audience feels genuine affection.
Calleja’s awkward and affable Josh pairs neatly with Easton’s at times standoffish yet personable Jess. Easton and Calleja act with spontaneity in their relationship: when Easton’s Jess can’t hold in a giggle at the sight of Josh’s puckered lips the response seems genuine; little moments like Calleja’s face when Josh hears Jess reveal her name are delightful.
There was a beautiful interesting moment part way through the play when, in a pause, Jess does the Awkward Turtle. A line could probably be quite neatly drawn down the ages of the audience on the beat on which they laughed – those who were young enough to recognize and laugh at the hand motions when it was done, and those who got the joke when it was explained.
Staged in the round on a simple plot, some directorial choices show sloppiness: while moving through the grave-yard, the locations and relationships of the imagined “graves” is never concreted, so the pair seemingly walk over plots they just detailed as a headstone. However, the overall character arc is well developed, and none of this sloppiness is shown when the action moves to the Missile Park and specific locations are fixed in the eyes of the cast.
Rocket Town is a young story, a story of isolation. Of the isolation of being a teenager, heightened and expanded thousand-fold by living in a town where you are the only two fifteen year olds. “I don’t want to be in a class of ten people,” Jess laments, “where one of them is my brother, and one of them is twelve.”
This isn’t a rose-coloured glasses-look at being a teenager in a small town. The most central prop is a carton of beer as the pair talks about driving cars and riding motorbikes and breaking into the cemetery and dealing with love and with loss.
And this is why this is the sort of play which needs to be the Youth Engagement Program.
Emily Steel and RiAus present Rocket Town, written and directed by Emily Steel. With Dee Easton and Sam Calleja. At RiAus, Adelaide Fringe, Season Closed.