Printable CopyS/HE...
Holden Street Theatres
Until 02 Mar 2018

Review by Sarah Westgarth

The politics of sexuality and gender have dominated our news cycle in recent times, and this work produced by the Prospect Theatre for Young People is an attempt to explore these issues of inequality as they relate to teenagers. “S/He…” is a series of vignettes, some of which are realistic, while others are surreal, metaphorical, or interpretative. The young cast take on multiple roles throughout the show, which is clearly a collaborative, workshopped piece. Referencing current events such as the #MeToo movement, and the controversy surrounding the gender of the Melbourne crosswalk light, “S/He” makes a bold attempt to make sense of the complicated expectations placed on young men and women. Unfortunately, the piece ends up biting off more than it can chew.

It’s a noble effort, but attempting to tackle sexting, the complexity of being an ally, homophobic bullying, sexual harassment, and gender inequality in under an hour, ultimately results in the prevailing message becoming convoluted and messy. Each one of these ideas could be explored in a show independently, but nothing feels like it’s explored in enough depth here, and the attempt to deal with everything means notable exceptions feel deliberately left out. There’s no explicit mention of transgender experiences, and for a play that purports to explore issues of gender, this feels like a big oversight. There is one interesting piece of gender-flipped casting, but ultimately, the piece fails to delve deep enough to have any significant emotional impact.

The young performer are all technically very proficient and being able to take on what they have with such enthusiasm and maturity is a real credit to both them, and the adults guiding the process. Their sincerity is endearing, and it’s a testament of the times that this is the work a group of young people have chosen to produce. The weakest parts of the play are the ones that aim to be more naturalistic, as the performers have too many affectations to feel genuine or authentic. The discussion surrounding the crosswalk light incident, and a game show segment that highlights the pressure of conforming to the expectations of your gender, are real highlights and do the best job of exploring the themes in a powerful and interesting way.

The show utilises minimalist set or props which generally work, though it’s unclear why some are mimed and some are physical objects. Footage and audio of real-life speeches and events are used, but to marginal effect, as the connection between the clips and the action onstage is loose at best. The transitions between the segments are often clunky, but the energy of the performers never wanes, and this keeps the pace up.

The company is to be commended for what they have tried to do here, even if it misses the mark. Having a more cohesive message and allowing time to explore the emotional impact of the issues would have made the show more powerful, but it’s definitely a piece that will provoke discussion, particularly amongst its largely young audience. The passion and power of teenagers is not something to be underestimated, so the fact that they’re proud to have these conversations is something to applaud.

Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)