The Violent Outburst That Drew Me To You

The Violent Outburst That Drew Me To You
By Finegan Kruckemeyer. Melbourne Theatre Company Education. Southbank Theatre, The Lawler. 2 – 18 May 2019 and touring 22 May – 7 June.

Here’s a pacey, humorous play about ‘troubled teens’ – for teens, but with plenty of fun, insight and good writing for general audiences.  Connor (Harry Tseng) is angry, violent and in trouble at school, with his family and even with his best mate Timo (Josh Price).  His Mum and Dad (Izabella Yena and Josh Price again), at their wits’ end, take him to an old shack deep in the bush and leave him there to sort himself out.  There, by chance, he meets Lotte (Ms Yena again), a teenager with much better reasons to be angry than Connor thinks he has.

Director Prue Clark handles this material with a nice touch and much fun is had when Mr Price – a tall, bearded guy with a shaven head – plays not only stoner Timo but also Connor’s Dad, Connor’s Uncle and a bus driver – sketching each with economic delineating.  Diminutive Ms Yena (diminutive beside Mr Price) has the important role of Lotte, the game changer, whom she plays with scary anger and tough talk dialogue – but she’s also Connor’s Mum, Connor’s aunt, Connor’s teacher and a car repair customer.  Both Mr Price and Ms Yena do these multiple roles so well that they get laughs with every turn.  Mr Tseng meanwhile might be a bit big, a bit mannered and rushed, and his ‘anger’ isn’t very angry – more annoying than threatening.  Mr Tseng wants us to like him – and we do, but that rather blunts his later realizations and changes.

Romanie Harper’s set design is deliciously inventive and perfectly suited to the stylised nature of the piece – and Prue Clark makes great use of it, switching locations and creating slapstick humour with three doors.  But watch out for the moment when a variety of urban settings transform into a bush shack – and then the bush itself.  It’s quite a coup de theatre – with a minimum of means.  These radical changes of locale are nicely bolstered by Amelia Lever-Davidson’s lighting and Ian Moorhead’s sound design. 

Mr Kruckemeyer is a fine, award-winning writer, but I have to say that The Violent Outburst is not his best work.  There is, as we’ve come to expect, some snappy repartee and some very fine writing – particularly in the longer speeches of Connor and Lotte in the second half.  But the set-up, while amusing, is rather too long and what does it tell us?  Not that Connor is a ‘typical teenager’.  He appears to have anger management issues, but why?  His parents are numbingly dull but kind and decent.  His ‘good bloke’ Uncle stretches tough love to the limit. 

So, does Connor have a psychiatric condition?  If he does, it would seem more serious than can be so easily resolved by his encounter with Lotte in the ‘forest’ – and the play doesn’t really begin – or fire - until she appears.  There’s a bit of vandalism that has no consequence and isn’t it a bit of a contrivance in the first place that the parents would really leave their problem son somewhere in the wilderness as the solution to his problems?  And then the play ends on a ‘realistic’ bitter-sweet note, but rather leaves us expecting an Act Three. 

In a broad strokes kind of way, however, the play is entertaining and enjoyable – made more so by Prue Clark’s fine inventive direction – and it makes its case.  You don’t know you’re well off until you meet someone a lot worse off than you.  The predominantly teenage audience on opening night seemed to ‘get it’.  The poster art rather shamelessly exploits a tenuous connection to Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople, but unfortunately The Violent Outburst is not in the same league.

Michael Brindley

Photographer: James Henry

To keep up with the latest news and reviews at Stage Whispers, click here to like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.