The State Theatre Company of South Australia
The Space
Until 02 Jun 2018

Review by Sarah Westgarth

Fleur Kilpatrick has written a compelling tale of friendship, trauma, and escape, a play that is captivating from start to finish. ‘Terrestrial’ is a two-hander, exploring the friendship between teenagers Liddy and Badar, who meet after Liddy and her mother move to the isolated mining town in which Badar has lived his whole life. While Liddy is cold and closed off, Badar is warm and welcoming, and makes it his mission to form a connection. The play does not follow a strictly linear narrative; rather, it experiments between time, place, and reality with seamless, quick transitions that are flawlessly executed. It quickly becomes clear we are viewing the development of Liddy and Badar’s relationship through Liddy’s reflections and memories, and her viewpoint is warped and twisted in ways even she does not understand.

Kilpatrick’s script shows a deep understanding of the way young people speak, think and feel; Badar and Liddy never feel stereotypical, and their experiences are treated with respect and care. Their lives are continuously affected by the choices and actions of the adults around them, often leaving them feel helpless and without agency. Both characters are forced to do what they can to feel in control, to survive in a world that sometimes seems like it’s out to get them.

The dialogue is in capable hands with Annabel Matheson and Patrick Jhanur, both of whom carry the audience with them, even when things start to feel confusing. Matheson is less naturalistic in her performance than she could have been, with many of her expressions and movements feeling more like affectations; it also would have been good to see more nuance in the character of Liddy, as Matheson’s tone doesn’t shift much throughout the play. That being said, she has a strong enough presence that she sells even the less endearing aspects of Liddy’s personality, and there’s never a doubt of who she is as a person. Jhanur’s portrayal of Badar is refreshing and dynamic; a role that could easily slip into caricature becomes instantly and refreshingly real. You feel everything he does: his joy, his pain, his humour, and his loneliness. It’s an incredible performance.

The direction by Nescha Jelk supports and uplifts the story, keeping the staging simple but powerful. All elements of the show been carefully considered, contributing to the gentle tension between calm and chaos that echoes throughout the play. The design by Meg Wilson, Chris Petridis and Andrew Howard is fantastic, contributing to the shifting tones of each scene, and transporting the audience to the starry outback, to an abandoned house, to a stark interrogation room, often in an instant.

The palpable sense of suspense and foreboding that is created throughout ‘Terrestrial’ is electric, and it’s clear that Jelk’s strong vision has created such a cohesive feel. The mystery element never feels frustrating or deliberately manipulative, but rather a natural unfolding of details, as Liddy’s traumatic past, obsession with aliens, and new friendship with Badar slowly unravel. Not all questions are answered, but ‘Terrestrial’ leaves you with just enough to keep you both curious and satisfied.