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Beautiful night of blood and breakdown!

Canberra Youth Theatre members perform “The Initiation”. Photo: Andrew Sikorski

Theatre / “The Initiation”, by Cathy Petcoz, Canberra Youth Theatre. At  Canberra Theatre Courtyard Studio until June 19. Reviewed by SIMONE PENKETHMAN.

CANBERRA Youth Theatre is celebrating its 50th birthday by doing what it does best: making shows where young people can frame their lives in the heightened space of the theatre.

Writer and director Cathy Petcoz came through CYT and is an innovative local theatre maker. She worked with the cast to bring their own perspectives to the characters. 

The opening night house is full with people of all ages. Many of us are theatre workers and most are connected to CYT.

“The Initiation” is set on Black Mountain. The set evokes rocks and trees and a quirky Telstra Tower.

Lights dim and the action begins. A group of teenagers banter about school and life. There’s a dark undertone. Its that age where schoolyard rhymes become macabre and you are suddenly more aware of status and privilege.

Two girls used to be friends, but now one of them goes to a private school and its complicated. 

A boy wants to Google “how to be a man”, but his home is too crowded to do that privately. The others tease him. 

A slightly older, gothic girl suggests an initiation ritual for the boy who wants to be a man. On Black Mountain is, “a place in the bush balanced between stone, sky, water”.

“The Initiation” is a horror story, a genre that Petcoz says is more often seen on screen than in a theatre. There are pop culture references everywhere. I’m reminded of young adult TV and fiction as much as film. It’s all so meta!

Sound designer Patrick Haesler does an outstanding job, using processed vocal sounds, bird calls and guitar to conjure suspense and resonate with the bush setting. 

The cast is focused, tight and committed. There’s plenty of blood and breakdown as the six characters navigate their night on the mountain. “The Initiation” is lively and funny; dramatic and dynamic; never turgid or self-indulgent.

What’s beautiful about this show is the simple vulnerability of the characters. No matter how meta or steeped in style, these teenage characters face the same doubts and dilemmas that Youth Theatre kids faced 50 years ago when the company began.

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