“The Nose”, at Sydney Opera House, February 23, 26, 28 and March 3. Reviewed by HELEN MUSA
Through a series of vignettes, interspersed with short dance and movement sequences, we are introduced to a group of young characters making their way through adolescence and high school.
“Versions of Us” was written by award-winning ex-Canberran playwright, Emily Sheehan, for the Canberra Youth Theatre, in collaboration with the members of the cast, who have offered intimacy, trust and disclosure to create the play.
No scenario is explored in depth, or “resolved”, as that was not the writer’s intention, but rather, the play is a snapshot of experiences possibly had by the cast and teens in general – from parental suicide, shoplifting, being gay and being dumped (unceremoniously via Facebook and text). Despite the subject matter, the most graphic detail was how to remove a security device from a cheap dress.
“Versions of Us” aimed to avoid typical teen angst – it is still portrayed, but presented in an appealing manner, drawing the audience in, wanting to discover more about these teens and what happens to them. The script and acting even managed to make the “bitchy” girls and blasé boys somewhat likeable.
A few of the lines were questionable in their believability and relatability to teenagers (“I’ve been working like a mule in chains”). Ironically, the scene where a girl casts aside her laptop and mobile of her own volition to engage with her brother is a surprise.
Character-wise, there were a few quick change of heart, as well as some over-acting and awkward timing, but these were only minor distractions, as were some abrupt sound edits and unbalanced volume levels.
“Versions of Us” contained a lot of poignant humour, as the characters decided they knew everything about their crush, despite having never spoken a word to them, or as they discussed their body shapes, or explained their twisted logic for shoplifting as being a feminist feat. Stereotypes were inverted – the girls bullied the boys for cigarettes and laughed at sexts they’d been sent.
Above all, the teens wanted reassurance that they weren’t alone and that there might be complete and unflinching acceptance of their true selves.
Although several scenes remained, a moving and fitting finale would have been when male and female cast members dressed in school uniforms of the opposite sex, perhaps inspired by the recent actions of English schoolboys. By then, the audience knew the characters enough that it wasn’t a big deal or even a big statement – people are just people. It was quite moving.
There was no “message” or “agenda” in “versions of us”. It was an entertaining performance, using minimal props and set. Unfortunately, of these stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell each other, not many seem to be positive, but in “Versions of Us” there was an underlying element of care shown towards and about each other.
One of the scenarios portrayed or statements vocalised will surely resonate with each person who sees this play… “The time I said I was sorry and didn’t mean it. The time I said I loved you, and did mean it.”