Nineteen focuses entirely on its cast of four young men living together in a squalid share house. It showcases the effects of toxic masculinity through a close nit group of friends who struggle to express themselves in any meaningful way and the troubles that result from it. The show feels as though it’s aimed at an audience of the age of its title, aimed at trying to win over those who it’s framed around. Despite this, there’s enough to it for those of all ages to connect with and enjoy. The idea of getting the people it’s aimed at to go to the theatre to see it does sound a bit optimistic, but who knows if this play ends up working its way into the school system where they wouldn’t have a choice.
The show takes a rapid fire, fast cut approach to its storytelling that jumps from synchronised lines from the entire cast to soliloquies with reckless abandon. Despite this, it’s rarely unclear what it is that’s going on with the segues being clearly underwritten by tricks of lighting or soundtrack. It’s a testament to the abilities of the four actors cast that they manage to pull it off so well without it descending into a confusing mess. Silvan Rus in particular gives a genuine sense of menace behind his character yet still manages to garner sympathy when his situation with his child becomes apparent.
With its inevitable tragic conclusion, whose circumstances are partially revealed at the start of the play, the heaviness is counterbalanced with a lot of laddish jokes about the life of excess that these characters lead. It’s interesting to hear how many people laughed out loud at these particular moments, though not overly surprising as the laddish bravado was captured so well. It’s almost done too well, threatening to glamourise those traits instead of just building depth to these characters. There are some clunky lines in there, but it captures the bravado better than most attempts to recreate teenage lad culture. As the play continues, the plot points become heavier and darker, with the tragic ending making it clear that these characters aren’t being deified.
The characters cover a wide-array of personality traits as though ticking off a bingo card of young-male character traits. Whether it’s the Patrick Bateman-esque gym addict, or the slightly awkward narrator of the piece, it’s as though each has been giving a breadth to try and appeal to those the piece is aimed at. It also helps avoid the whole thing becoming homogenous, finding humour in the odd-couple situation of it all.
The pivotal moment in the play revolves around homosexuality, perhaps an inevitability with the themes explored. It’s perhaps slightly predictable, though does fit the narrative perfectly and is a subject matter that needs to be targeted at its core audience. It’s the reactions of the characters to this event that creates the clunkiest moment of the play. The way the characters react at this point don’t quite fit right, feeling slightly forced to fit in with the core theme that the characters don’t know how to express themselves. The way that the conversation about it goes down and the later change of heart just feel a little hard to buy into. It’s not bad enough to derail the play, but if anything, it drew attention to how believable the behaviours and reactions of the characters had been earlier in the play.
There are so many great set pieces in this production, and the director is unafraid to sit on awkward silences. The script is a delight, with a cutting wit that underlies the whole thing and a depth of understanding of the characters contained within. Every cast member put in a fantastic performance bringing these characters to life, creating an originally created theatrical piece that everyone involved could be proud of. It’s inspiring seeing locally made theatre at this calibre, and hopefully they get the opportunity to put it in front of the people with whom it would be most resonant.
Nineteen played at Brisbane Powerhouse from November 9th-12th
Steven Morgan – Theatre Now & On The Town