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  • Kate Gaul



Substation at QTOPIA


Instead of GCSEs, Cain, Riyad and Jonjo got sentences. Locked up in a young offender institution, they trade sweets, chat shit, kill time – and await fatherhood. Grace's job is to turn these teenagers into parents, ready to take charge of their futures. But can they grow up quickly enough to escape the system? Winner of the 2019 Papatango New Writing Prize, Samuel Bailey's “Shook” – we are told “is a tender and honest play examining the young men society shuts away.”

The play arrives in Sydney via new company, Lost Thought, directed by Emma Whitehouse. The play has a kind of hyper realistic energy, and this follows through in the directing. At 100 minutes (no interval) we really need something to care about.  The outcome of the plot is not so unexpected but the attention to detail in the directing is honourable. Played with “authentic” regional UK accents the text can be – at times – extremely difficult to understand.  But there is enough going on physically for us to get the gist.  The production had a last-minute change of venue to the Substation and this under street level and intimate room is ideal for a drama which literally takes place in a locked room. It’s a run-down classroom in a young offender’s institution where the guys can learn some life skills before returning to the outside world. I suspect the Substation space is best used more site specifically. For this production the intervention of a canvas wall and flimsy door frame don’t do many favours to an otherwise robust piece of work.  The challenge will always be to find a solution to the dramatic needs of a play in any given space – but hey, that’s our job as creatives.

Louis Regan plays the hyperactive and unpredictable Cain with a mania beloved by young actors. There’s not a lot of variation in the performance but these banged up lads aren’t exactly into nuance. Cain is an illiterate troublemaker who devours sweets with the aggression he spews out on others.  Malek Domkoc gives a striking performance as Riyad – ex gang member with a brain who is really giving rehabilitation a go. Isaac Harley an introverted and dog loving Jonjo neatly balances his inner demons with startling vulnerability. I didn’t buy the over wrought final moment in this production. This guy is vicious underneath and how successful is the ‘system” anyway? Isn’t the point of the play that these guys get “shook” and revert to type? Edyll Ismail is stunning in her portrayal of courage under pressure as Grace, the social worker who comes to the lockup to show these young fathers how to care for an infant. The playwright gives the actors plenty to work with.  It’s not particularly theatrical and it’s meant to be played with a fourth wall.  Traditional, little poetry, predictable world view.  It’s a sad story unfolding in a concrete bunker in shades of grey. Plenty of things to think about in terms of the despairing predicament of incarcerated youth anywhere. The joy in this production is encountering the new talents on and off the stage, definitely some names to watch.

Review by Kate Gaul

I(mage Becky Mathews)



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