Spur of the Moment – Anya Reiss and the future of theatre (Theatre Review)
The Australian Theatre for Young people is fifty years old this year, and as part of the celebration, there is a very polished and well performed production of Spur of the Moment available for Sydney audiences to enjoy.
What is most remarkable about Spur of the Moment is not the play itself, but that it was written by the young Anya Reiss when she was under seventeen years old. Anya has kept writing, and won many awards since Spur of the Moment and her other plays, have hit the stage. Part of the essential nature of this Sydney production is to witness the value of encouraging young talent in the very early stages, such that they have the opportunity to feel respected and nurtured. Not only is Anya Reiss so very young, but several of the cast members are girls in their early teens who have never performed out of school.
Spur of the Moment is a play about a true-to-life drama that is a part soap opera, part sit-com look at the very difficult road a teen must travel as they make their way into the world of adults. Delilah is a school girl whose parents are going through the kind of tough time that makes them ignore their maturing teenage girl. Nick Evans has cheated on his wife with his boss at work, and not only been caught in the act, but fired from his job. His actions have left his family struggling financially and his wife distressed and humiliated. They bring in a border, Daniel Mast, a university student who has run away to be at a safe distance from his own demons. On the spur of the moment, Delilah will throw a kiss Daniel’s way and that is when the families troubles really start.
It is the promise and the hope placed in Anya Reiss that carries Spur of the Moment through. Unsurprisingly the most interesting and well-developed character is the young Delilah, a twelve-going-on-thirteen year old girl struggling to come to terms with being in that awkward and difficult child-on-their-way-to-woman state. Delilah wants to grow up and grow up now, and Reiss has written an alarmingly deft portrait of a young girl and her actions that seem to be spur of the moment, but are in fact an unexamined response to her environment.
If the other characters seem a little clichéd (completely understandable with such a young writer), what elevates the play is the clever use of language, the interaction between warning parents, the giggling conversations of school girls and the portrayal of daily life. Reiss’ is clever with her seamless weaving of cross cultural references. There are strong moments, like when a group of teen girls swoon over an appropriately fictitious Harry Potter and transition easily to the same ogling references regarding Daniel, the male lodger in the household. The truth is, brought accurately to the surface by Reiss, girls that age almost can’t tell the difference between Harry Potter and a flesh and blood male living under the same roof, both being the stuff of fantasy and the barer of hope. In the same vein, insightful is Reiss’ Delilah and the way each statement carries the childishness and teen maturity of a young girl trying desperately to be seen as a woman. Delilah’s cry is “stop calling me a kid” when her actions are a confused and jumbled mess of childish misreading of complex adult situations and feelings, and a mature response to parents who can’t see her clearly beyond their own problems.
Not quite as strong is the written account of Delilah’s parents. The language, again is clever and well thought out, but fights are overlong and unnecessary scenes go on to the point of repetition. Director Fraser Corfield navigates these problems very well, maintaining great respect for the young play write and all she has accomplished, by bringing fantastic actors like Zoe Carides to the role of Vicki Evans (Delilah’s mother) and Felix Williamson as Nick Evans (Delilah’s father) to give the roles of the parents the much-needed pizzazz and charisma that carries the play through its weaker moments. When Carides particularly, is on the stage, we want to hear everything that comes out of her mouth. Arguments between parents are tediously repetitious when heard from the perspective of a teenager sharing life under the same roof and in the firm hand of Corfield, these circular arguments lose the drag on the play they otherwise might have. What is so impressive about the direction, and indeed every aspect of the production, is the great respect shown the young play write and toward her work. But that’s what the ATYP is all about, and also what Fraser Corfield was trying to convey in his notes in the introduction to the performance. We don’t celebrate Anya Reiss for who she will be, we also take the trouble to celebrate what she has successfully done.
For a fantastic peek into the future of theatre, its well worth the effort to make your way down to the ATYP and see Spur of the Moment. Season runs from August 28 through to September 14.