Summer at Suspended Stone Camp – Madelaine Nunn and the Magic Realism of teen angst.

Jopuka Productions

At Red Tree Theatre June 11 – June 20

You can grab your tickets here.

Please note: I attended this production as a full paying ticket holder in order to relay a complete audience member experience.

What better way to depict that strange psychological land the teenager must traverse as they grow up than through magic realism? Although, traditionally the literary device has been used to depict Latin American culture emerging from the clutches of colonialism, Madelaine Nunn has chosen to use the formula as landscape for the coming-of-age story Summer at Suspended Stone Camp.

When Claudia (performed by Josie Rogencamp on the night that I saw the show) arrives at Suspended Stone Camp, what appears to be a strict school for way-ward (read “interesting”) kids turns out to be far more, and the young people are drawn into a world where their unusual personality traits become assets.

The irony Madelaine Nunn brings to the writing relies heavily on certain binary opposites. A world that rejects the vibrancy of youth, versus a world where the young fight back. The protagonists are singled out as strange yet saved by the diversity of their talents. Their parents sent them to camp for safety, where the kids find a terrible threat. Major themes emerge such as conformity as danger, diversity as safety; endangering young lives through control, while resistance maintains a safe space; rational versus imagination; controlled behaviour as a signpost of danger rather than security. For Claudia and her friends, the journey to a new truth reveals a deeper and truer reality than the conventional realistic world could illustrate.

Not that I can go into any detail here, as one of the great joys of this lovely play is the twist after interval. Suffice to say, Suspended Stone Camp isn’t quite what Claudia and her friends thought it was.

Madelaine Nunn has written (after winning the Elderslee Foundation Commission) a delightful play that is best presented by a strong up and coming youth focused theatre company such as Jopuka. Summer at Suspended Stone Camp is yet another example of the cultural strength budding on the Central Coast. With company director and production designer Joshua Maxwell at the helm, director Elyse Hayhurst (assisted by Elodie Tipton Akers) has brought a striking presentation to our notice, while making full use of the many talented young people Jopuka has in its gift. Theatre is a complex dynamic at the best times, but to empower young people to perform at their best and call forth a witty show filled with warmth and an engaging story line is no easy thing.

Elyse is also assisted by clever composition by Deanna Barnes and an evocative set by Josh Maxwell. This gives the efficient and reliable nightly crew of Dakota Lily and Libby Blake a solid foundation upon which to being out the production over its short run.

The evening I attended, I saw the Pebble cast, headed by the joyful Josie Rogencamp, a vibrant Lucy Tazawa and enigmatic Buggy Andrews. The crew of youth “offenders” is well rounded out by Eloise Hunt (as a very funny Tech), a delightfully dreamy Mia Drengenberg, Joseph Galea as the perpetually ill Tim, the dead-pan cleverness of conspiracy theorist Theo Andreson-Waddell and a striking Anna Baines as bad-boy Sam.

Without giving too much away, it is the ensemble cast of the second act that bring the full weight of horror meets hilarity in the clever performances of Lyra Soanes, Sky Gleeson, Caitlin Weeks, Isabella Carpenter, Lucinda Ford and Khy Elliot. To detail the strength of these performances is to give away a spoiler, but it’s worth noting that without the total engagement of the six ensembles, one of the plays powerhouse messages is completely lost.

Finally, Summer at Suspended Stone Camp is nothing without its two authority figures. One of the central messages of the play is the futility of dictatorial control and we have it served up to us fully formed in the witty performance of Brigette Johnston as Vickie and Dylan Vermuyten as the other-worldly Milozs. The pair symbolise the seamless transition from the natural to the supernatural and each actor successfully presents a complex symbolic position without the need for laboured explanation.

Summer at Suspended Stone Camp is not a play that will leave you entrenched in a familiar morality. Madelaine Nunn has crafted a joyful, very funny theatrical experience that takes you in directions you did not expect. It’s wry wit and elegant plotting is well presented by this delightful group of young people who appear to be having a wonderful time on the stage. Supporting theatre is always a good idea, but if you need a bit of a break this week, grab your partner, grab a glass of wine at the bar and settle in for your induction at Suspended Stone camp. You’ll be very glad you did.

I’d like to add, a big thank you to the Elderslee Foundation and the very beautiful Red Tree Theatre.