Review: It’s Been A While (Smoking Gum Theatre)

smokinggumVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 16 – 19, 2014
Playwright: Jordy Shea
Director: Lucinda Vitek
Cast: Stephen Bracken, Chris Circosta, Luke Holmes, Zara Stanton, Kathryn Wenborn

Theatre review
It’s Been A While is a story about youth, friendship and sexual awakenings. It centres around the suicide of an 18 year-old, and a group of five friends who come to terms with adulthood and death. Jordy Shea’s script is structurally ambitious, with separate timelines interweaving in a constant state of flashing backwards and forwards. Its frank portrayal of our youth’s interests and concerns is refreshing, and the work provides an important voice to the diversity of our artistic landscape. The production is just over an hour long and although everyone enjoys a succinct piece, Shea’s script needs deeper exploration of its themes and personalities. He sets up interesting premises but they require more thorough excavation for scenes to sizzle. The writing could also benefit with more varied speaking patterns. There is some effort put into individualising characters, but they need to have more distinct voices to create greater colour for the stage.

Performances are earnest and energetic. The cast is green, but it is clear that they put their all into the show. Luke Holmes is a lively Tom. He is a slightly grown up class clown, who is always keen to contribute a sense of lightheartedness. Kathryn Wenborn is effective when her character Maddy becomes introspective, and memorable for her heartfelt delivery of an emotional sequence at the play’s conclusion. Dean is played by Stephen Bracken who has a strong presence and good focus, but as with the entire group, more training and stage experience would be helpful.

The plot’s complexity present a challenge. It is frequently unclear which of the two chronologies is being depicted, and the confusion that transpires is distracting. Scene transitions require further finessing, and design elements while adequate, could be more adventurous. Lucinda Vitek’s direction is tightly paced, but an extended rehearsal period would make the friendships more believable and cast chemistry more exhilarating. The subject of teen suicide is interesting, and probably one that many can relate to. We feel like we know what the characters are going through, which also means that our imaginations are vivid, and our expectations need to be met. It’s Been A While does not hit every note right, but it is a gallant effort that tells a meaningful story.