Terrestrial definition: “pertaining to, consisting of, or representing the earth as distinct from other planets.” The title sets the context of this State Theatre of South Australia production. We are in a small, isolated outback town where the earth and sky are ever present. People are few and connections are tenuous.
Author Fleur Kilpatrick dedicatesTerrestrial to teenagers, who she sees as funny, warm, resilient and often misrepresented. She weaves through this story a unique friendship, time, landscape and the ever-present sky as an escape from fear, trauma and loneliness. Kilpatrick cautions us not to read too much into it, but the relationships in the story are complex and multi-layered and, at times, the story is dark, and the main character, an alien obsessed teenager Liddy, is lonely and vulnerable. Liddy, and her mother are constantly “on the run.” We are not sure if she knows, is, or has been put there and controlled by aliens or why, indeed she and her mother have spent her life to date running away.
Set in a small mining town and aimed at teenagers, this one-hour long play is complex and well-crafted enough to engage adults equally. In fact, the subtleties may be lost on many young people with less life experience of isolation and small town desolation.
Actors Annabel Matheson as Liddy and Patrick Jhanur as Badar are well matched. Their characters’ developing friendship is believable and real and each seems comfortable with and connected to the other. The actors’ story telling is as confident as complex. Each sets a natural style, pace and rhythm. They behave, look and sound like teenagers who are becoming good friends. Each actor uses both silence and facial expressions convincingly and with perfect timing.
Nescha Jelk gives the actors the scope to be believable teenagers. She harnesses the starkness and encourages Liddy to battle with her past and to explore her own narrative and move forward. In understanding herself she can understand others and her responsibility for the future. Implicit is that we all have our own truths, realities and beliefs. Humour is strategically, subtly and gently woven in. It is also a uniquely Australian play in its flavour, language, style and imagery.
Present and heard at times is the omnipotent voice of Patrick Frost as Him. Heralded by neon lighting, he intervenes, adding to the mystery and tension by giving Liddy advice and instructions. On occasions on opening night, the audio meant that this dialogue was not clear and universally audible. Other sound effects by Andrew Howard are significant and effective in the storytelling.
Meg Wilson designed a stark and simple set that is well used by the actors. Reminiscent of an office, school desk or cell, the set is cleverly side lit by Chris Petridis. Particularly powerful is the lighting that transports us to the stark and exposed outside night. Hand held lights add eerie mystery and variety.
The story challenges the audience to keep up as it twists and turns. What does alien mean? Is there an alien? Who is the alien? Is this code for alienation and is it all in their and our imaginations? Who or what is the external force in Liddy’s life?
Terrestrial is different, confronting and aimed at challenging our own truths. It is also a great vehicle for us to revisit the role we have in working with teenagers to shape our shared future.
Photographer: Kate Pardey