May 28, 2018

Looking to the heavens for escape

by Fleur Kilpatrick.
State Theatre Company South Australia.
Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre.
May 24. Tickets: $32- $61. Bookings 131 246 or online
Duration 60 minutes (no interval)
Until June 2.

Playwright Fleur Kilpatrick dedicates her newest work, Terrestrial, “to lonely girls, to bored boys, to quiet towns.” Part of State Theatre’s State Ed schools program, it has already toured regional schools and centres, with more to come when this Adelaide season concludes.

In State’s 2018 season brochure, Terrestrial is linked to Leigh Creek but in this production details are far less specific. It is deliberately generalised. Lonely girls, bored boys, and quiet towns are many and various in regional Australia, experiencing dwindling hopes in declining circumstances, and with few offers of assistance, or even consolation.

Liddy is a teenage terrestrial who is definitely looking for some thing extra. She is new in town and knows no-one. She and her mother have been constantly on the move, trying to get distance from her abusive father, but caught in a pattern of toxic reconciliations. When everything around her looks bleak, Liddy looks upwards to the stars. Her hopes are other-worldly, to be beamed up and beyond, like the UFO and alien capture cases she eagerly reads about.

Her new friend Badar is also an outsider. When Liddy asks what his name means, he says “Full Moon”. “Spaceman ?” she enquires, “Muslim” he replies. Badar is attached to his new town, generally optimistic even though the mine is closing, patient and generous with Liddy despite her restless desperation. Both talk about getting away but the options are unclear and, unlike Liddy, Badar’s intentions are thoroughly grounded.

Director Nescha Jelk has astutely managed Kilpatrick’s spare, elliptical, often enigmatic text, counterpointing the teenagers’ heartfelt dialogue with the inter-galactic (or not ?) mysteries of the final scene. Meg Wilson’s functional set is a simple demountable façade with a deck and a large mirror window, Chris Petridis’s lighting, like Andrew Howard’s excellent sound design, is appealingly understated – except for the close encounters of the explosive, indeterminate kind.

The performances are vivid : Annabel Matheson as Liddy, vexed, vulnerable, determined, and Patrick Jhanur, as Badar, empathetic, resilient, emotionally intelligent. They capably carry the ambitions of this intentionally inconclusive play.

Fleur Kilpatrick has written about teenage distress and anomie, expressed through science fiction fantasy and the systematic scrutiny of a police procedural. Questions are being asked of Liddy by an investigator, referred to only as “Him” (the disembodied voice of Patrick Frost). A gun was fired, someone is missing, the police are dragging the reservoir .

These and other conundra are genuinely engaging, just as the predicaments of the young people are poignant and meaningful. Terrestrial raises more than it resolves, but it has invention and suspense enough to provoke spirited speculation among young audiences lucky enough to see it.

“Looking to the heavens for escape”, The Australian, May 28, 2018, p.14.

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