Truck Stop is a gritty story about two young teenage schoolgirls (Kelly and Sam) who try to overcome their boredom and restlessness in what turns out to be a highly dangerous way that ultimately endangers their mental health, brushes them against law, humiliates them, and ultimately costs them their friendship.
Written by Lachlan Philpott, Truck Stop won Best Australian Play for Young Audiences in the Australian Writer’s Guild Awards in 2012. Although this accolade might appear to limit the play’s appeal, nothing could be further from the truth. It is a candid and at times shocking glimpse into the lives of adolescents who are struggling to fashion their own identities and make sense of the milieu in which they find themselves largely through no fault of their own. We all know or have known individuals like Kelly (played by Zoe Muller), Sam (Prudence Cassar) and their friend Aisha (Alyssa Peters), and we have all variously brushed them and their miseries aside, or partially reached out to them. Like it or not, we are all involved and partially accountable for the life trajectories of our friends and acquaintances. The cast is rounded out with India Carnell who superbly plays a range of roles.
Philpott’s narrative is episodic, multi-layered, fast-paced, sometimes convoluted, but always riveting. Characters often speak in the first and third person which provides an immediacy to the action as well as quick and pithy insights into the motivations of the characters. This style of dialogue is not easy to do well, but the cast breeze through it. Director Ren Williams has excelled in sustaining the play’s action and tension, and in no time at all ninety minutes – there is no interval – has flown by. Incidentally, Truck Stop is Williams’ stage directing debut, although she has a wealth of other directing experience. Clearly Williams has a bright future and is one to watch.
Williams has cast well. Cassar and Muller are superb as the protagonists. Williams’ tight choreography has them move uninhibitedly around the minimalist (but enormously effective) set and convincingly play every emotion from adolescent elation to crushing despair. Sometimes they are almost hellish, and at other times they are the most vulnerable and almost-crushed beings on earth.
Muller usually inhabits the other side of the stage-curtain and pulls the strings at Deadset Theatre Company, but on this occasion, she treads the boards and leaves no doubt that she is the theatrical full-deal. She gives a credible and engaging performance.
Cassar’s scene with Carnell in the role of a counsellor is just electric. Cassar almost channels Regan from The Exorcist! This is a standout moment – on any stage – and is a credit to the writing, the actors, and the director.
Peters achingly captures the uncertainties felt by a new arrival to Australia from a different culture. We feel her pain at racist taunts, and her yearning to be accepted by others. Peters gives a strong performance that keeps faith with the inherent vulnerability of the character.
In multiple roles, both male and female, India Carnell is exceptional. We are never in any doubt which character she is playing. There is always sufficient and convincing difference between them, and she inhabits them all. Her portrayal as a sexual trauma doctor is a case in point: empathy but aloofness at the same time.
The playing area is set in a transverse style with audience seated on both sides. This style can be problematic, with difficult directorial decisions needing to be made so that cast movement does not appear to be contrived. None of that in this production. Everything is meaningful, natural and without distraction. The simple but well-conceived lighting facilitates this.
Although it is set simply, the show is not without its technical complications, and the lightning plot with its myriad states was executed efficiently and artistically. The under-score by Oscar Sarre was excellent: at times it was ominous, at other times it was barely there but added to and complemented the overall sense of drama.
This really is a fine production. Even though Deadset Theatre Company aims to “create theatre for and about young people”, this is a show that any production company would be very proud of.