Deadset Theatre Company is a unique and most worthy contributor to the Adelaide theatre scene. This adaptation of Puberty Blues, reviving Deadset’s inaugural 2017 season, drew a predominantly youthful and most appreciative opening night audience. That age profile, matching the company’s charter, would be the envy of most of our theatre companies. It entirely justifies Deadset’s founders Zoe Muller and Matilda Butler boldly deciding to overcome the lack of serious youth theatre by and for young people.
This performance really hit the mark. Muller and Butler directed the play with surety, notably achieving that while playing the central characters Debbie and Sue. These two were most engaging, both when narrating the story and when interacting with one another and the other characters. They conveyed innocence and its loss without resorting to melodrama, which would have been an easy mistake to make. Indeed, credibility and naturalness characterised the whole production.
One central feature of the play is the challenge it makes to the casual, entitled sexism and misogyny of the surfers. It was controversial in 1979 when it was written, and still is today, but for slightly different reasons. While dealing so overtly with teenage sex raised adults’ eyebrows and ire then, what disturbs today’s audiences more is the dreadful way the girls and young women are ordered about, coerced and preyed upon by the worst of the surfies. It clearly lays bare the bad and the ugly of that culture, while showing how the good has difficulty in asserting itself.
Tim Stoekel made it so easy to dislike Danny who lorded over Sue in a disturbingly aggressive way. As the equally unlikeable Bruce, Sachin Barcklay mirrored Danny in his uncompromising selfishness and misogyny.
Jai Pearce, as Gary, impressed with his strength of character and sense of decency, showing a fine and controlled dramatic range in doing so. Veronika Wlodarczyk was convincing as Cheryl, both when she was the spiteful queen bee of the surfie “molls” and later when she understood the need for fairness and justice. They were convincingly supported by all other performers, each of whom had a clearly defined character. Indeed the complete cast gave us the sense of a strong ensemble at work.
This was a relatively short piece of theatre and yet the plot developments, especially at the end, did not feel rushed. It had a pleasing sense of unity, exemplified by the opening and closing dual narration by Sue and Debbie.
The episodic nature of the script was well served by the simple and efficient set, effectively delineated by Jayden Cowell and Oliver Dawson’s lighting plot.
This theatre company is unique, successful and effective. They choose their material well and execute it skilfully. We should treasure such enterprise. I know I do.