FUNNY, SHOCKING, NOSTALGIC AND TENDER
Southern Lakes Festival of Colour|
Writer: Graeme Tetley
Director: Sara Brodie
Musical direction: Michael Nicholas Williams
at Hawea Flat Hall, Hawea
From 12 Apr 2011 to 16 Apr 2011
[1hr 15min, no interval]
Reviewed by Laura Williamson, 13 Apr 2011
New Zealand, 1954. People sang ‘Rule Britannia!', young boys had to earn the right to wear long trousers and adolescents were still afraid of their parents.
It was also the year of the Mazengarb Report on juvenile moral indecency, also known as the Report of the Special Committee on Moral Delinquency in Children and Adolescents. There were rumours of milk bar orgies and teen temptresses, and 61 youths in Upper Hutt were arrested for sexual improprieties.
Riverside Drive explores this strange chapter in New Zealand social history through the story of David, a 14-year-old boy who – like most 14-year-old boys who have ever lived and who ever will – can't stop thinking about sex, and can't stop feeling guilty about it. He courts the beautiful Rosa, copes with his fanatically religious mother (“It's never so dark that Jesus can't see you,” she warns) and does his best join in on the inept sexual banter of his male peers.
It is a frank look at early teen sexuality and, more importantly, the reactions of adults to it. Mattias Inwood's David is achingly real, an awkward boy in the opening scenes who grows in confidence as he faces the moral condemnation of his townspeople. Jordaine Wilson is heart-breaking as Rosa: a mature performance for an actor still in high school herself.
Playwright Graeme Tetley populates his script with fantastic fifties' characters, familiar, yet more than just caricatures. Senior Sergeant Farquhar (Finn Gilmour) struts in and out of the story, muttering “dirty, dirty boys” as his terrorised wife knits obsessively in the background. Glamorous quiz show host Nash Bradley (Jimmy Rimmer) seems to glow, floating over the proceedings like an angel of mercy until he, like the other adults, shows himself to be terribly human.
For while it is the teens who face inquisition, one by one it is the grownups who reveal themselves to be immoral: incest, neglect, dishonesty, blindness. In the end, the children are left with nothing to do but become the rebels they have been cast as by their elders.
Director Sara Brodie uses all her available space to immerse us in Tetley's world. On the day of the Queen's visit, a model train festooned with Union Jacks traverses above the audience on a wall-mounted track. A “web of depravity” is literally spun from yarn passed back and forth between audience members, some of whom are handed signs saying “masturbation”, “carnal knowledge” and “gross gross indecency”. The boys have to literally climb through it to plead their case to the Senior Sergeant.
Sadly, playwright Tetley, Qantas Scriptwriter of the Year in 2009 for Out of the Blue, died suddenly a month before the premiere. His script is at once funny, shocking, nostalgic and tender. There is an obvious fondness for his young characters, whose journey through what is a treacherous time in life is made more difficult by the very people who should be guiding them.
Set more than half a century ago, Riverside Drive asks questions we are still struggling to answer today.
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