Note: This review reveals a key plot twist.
The play begins with ambiguity, danger and tension. Our minds and emotions struggle with meanings and morals, trying to form a narrative while jostling for head space with our own senses of right and wrong, theatrical representations and social acceptability. The work is about sexual predators, sex work and the way sex is used to construct perspectives of the world and the way we live in it. These ideas are best enjoyed in an air of uncertainty, instability and disquiet. When Tara Clark’s Jennifer Forever is provocative, it has a fierce and unsettling energy, but when it dissolves into a more assertive political position, its arguments lose their edge to become more conventional.
The strength of Clark’s writing lies in its passionate dialogue and the textured characters it presents. Fiery and thought-provoking confrontations between Man and Girl are used to great dramatic effect by Clark’s own direction. Playing Girl is Gemma Scoble who attacks her counterpart with a sadistic glee. She performs Girl’s two age brackets convincingly but can sometimes be too surface in her approach. She is persuasive as a figure of power and aggression but moments of vulnerability are not as compelling. Dominic McDonald’s performance as Man is impressive in its complexity. He makes the role despicable, intriguing and palpable, with an ability to find qualities that are universal to the human experience. McDonald has a sensitivity that allows us to connect with the daunting character that he portrays, and the several stages of transformation he performs is gripping entertainment.
For several scenes, Man addresses the audience directly in a series of lectures, but it is not just this element that makes the play feel excessively didactic. Clark has a clear message she wishes to relay, and her voice is unapologetic and direct. The story quickly subsides and we witness intense quarrels about the main themes of the text. The characters give way to the big ideas that take centre stage, but what remains becomes too simple and obvious in comparison. Jennifer Forever‘s timely look at paedophelia is honest and refreshing. It reflects our contemporary concerns and even though its theatrical effectiveness waivers, it addresses our need for discussion on the topics. We are at the precipice of a disintegrating taboo and achieving a greater understanding that will protect and heal is crucial.