It’s Been A While – Smoking Gum Theatre and the problems of memory. (Theatre Review)

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It’s Been A While

Smoking Gum Theatre Company and King Street Theatre

16-19 July. You can grab your tickets here.

Schoolies week is an excellent topic for live theatre, and It’s surprising it isn’t examined more often. So much about the actions we take so causally in our youth become the blue prints of our lives in ways we can’t anticipate, and notice primarily in reflection. Jordy Shea’s It’s Been a While is very much about the casual moment, distorted by reactionary thinking, that then changes lives forever, but more than that, it is an examination of what occurs in the years after “the event.” How memory redefines events and your right to clear your own guilt. Schoolies Week is a hot bed for this kind of event, and many lives are irrevocably transformed out of the indulging in extremes that the week has come to represent. But what It’s Been A While discusses with great clarity, is the impact something like Schoolies Week can have over time. The right of passage is usually organised with the event in mind, not the aftermath, and yet these events often have far reaching consequences.

Smoking Gum Theatre Company have put together a wonderful show that deals with these topics in an engaged and serious way, while Jordy Shea’s script maintains a wit and depth that keep a strong pace and light feel to very serous subject matter. Dean, Nick, Tom, Maddy and Josie are away for Schoolies Week down the south coast of New South Wales. they prepare with all the most important considerations covered – such as alcohol and drug supply and accommodation. it doesn’t take long for Maddy and Tom to “hook up” and their togetherness inspires Dean and Josie to do the same. It is Nick who is left alone as the others all pair off, and Nick’s relationship to the group as an outsider that will be made clear through drastic events on the weekend, and the difficulty of memory in the years to come.

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Director Lucinda Vitek pushes the cast through a swift pace as they move from an upper stage to a lower, representing the casts place in time according to the narrative. The clarity of this divide is excellent, even when Vitek often keeps characters from the “past” hovering over the heads of those in the “present” as they talk about their memory, something that could be confusing but never is. each part of the stage is littered with props, most noticeably bottles of booze that are gradually packed away, almost thoughtlessly by the cast, as they move through the story. These subtle symbolic points of reference manage to ground It’s Been a While and give it some depth, as the characters deal with the surfacing manifestation of their feelings.

Luke Holmes is impressive as Tom. He gets some of the best lines in the show, is the most comically available character and delivers these gems with great conviction which makes him compelling to watch. His journey through some intense emotional mine fields is properly balanced against his laracanism, so that when he does arrive at an intense theatrical moment, it makes sense against the transformation Tom experiences. Zara Stanton as Maddy is also great to watch, as Tom’s love interest, and one of the more level-headed of the group. Her stabilizing force comes to the rescue of the group so many times, and Stanton plays this aspect of her character up, that eventually it is a relief to see her arrive on the stage. Katheryn Wenborne is Josie, probably the most difficult character to portray in It’s Been A While. Josie is sexually aggressive and yet highly emotionally intuitive, so that she is often in response to her own feelings. Wenborne brings the complexity out in her character, so that where she could have been written off as a “siren” of sorts, Wenborne’s Josie has a unique vulnerability that manages to escape the cliché of the “sad pretty girl.” Most of the play revolves around Stephen Bracken’s Dean, who is the primary instigator of the two important climactic points, in the play – one to do with “the event” that changes everything and the other to do with the forcing of memory on the others for his own psychological needs. Dean is a kind of a bad guy, but Bracken’s obvious sympathy for his character prevents a blame game, giving us a chance to feel for a young man completely out of his depth. Behind and weaving throughout the cast is Chris Circosta as Nick, the every present ghost of a night that changes everyone’s life. Circosta is appropriately gentle, an almost spiritual force of something larger than the collective wisdom around him can accommodate.

It’s Been a While is a charming night of theatre, with its heart in the right place, and a central premise that makes you think. There were a couple of production glitches on the night, but nothing that isn’t probably already worked out through the repeat performances. It’s on at the King Street Theatre for a limited time, so get your tickets quick.

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