shake and stir has done it again! Their brand new work Fourteen, adapted from Shannon Molloy’s memoir of the same name, is the perfect night at the theatre. Not only is the stagecraft and its technical aspects fabulous, but it makes you laugh, think and dance in your seats to sick 90’s beats.
Adapted by Nelle Lee, Nick Skubij (who is also the director) and author Shannon Molloy, Fourteen explores Molloy’s experiences of being a gay, fourteen year old in a small town of Yeppoon in Central Queensland in the year of 1999. It is a slice of life story about how Molloy was bullied for his queerness by his hyper-masculine, rugby playing school mates at his Catholic Primary School and how he overcame his adversaries through the help of his family and close mates, but most importantly, through his own courage and resilience.
The adaptors and Skubij’s direction don’t shy away from the darkness and nuance of Molloy’s experiences being bullied and what a dangerous mental space he was in – the play contains mature themes about suicide, coarse language, simulated violence and depictions of sexual abuse. Despite these heart-breaking, heavier themes, it is balanced with moments of levity in the hope-filled interactions between the characters, as well as its comedic delivery. Never have I seen an audience laugh so much at the 90’s nostalgia but then the entire mood would shift with a flick of a switch depending on the bigotry that Molloy would endure.
Dan Venz’s choreography is dope, effortlessly transitioning the set around and having the characters appear within the blink of an eye in movements that would have taken a lot of technical prowess to pull off, but to the audience, appeared seamless. Guy Webster’s sound design served as an anchoring tool for the play; as well as a backdrop for the scene transitions, taking us an aural journey through the different places and parts in Molloy’s year.
Josh McIntosh’s set design had a painstaking attention in detail to the picturesque weatherboard walls and outdoor, flickering mosquito lights of old Queenslanders as well as the interiors of an old country school. Director Skubij utilised McIntosh’s moveable set pieces and the revolve, complimented with Trent Suidgeest‘s lighting design, transported the audience from a classroom to a jetty to a fashion show with such ease that if you blinked, then you would have missed it.
This adaption includes a plethora of pop culture references to the colloquialisms of that time, the fashion, the things that were hip and the things that were a flop. An audience favourite was the hanging silver bag of wine that was swung from one cast member to the next, the sounds of the dial-up internet and the dance sequences to the bops of 99 such as the likes of Shania Twain, S Club and J-Lo.
The cast is slick; with six performers Johnny Balbuziente, Mitchell Bourke, Leon Cain, Helen Cassidy, Karen Crone, and Amy Ingram effortlessly transforming from one character to the next; each with their own unique idiosyncrasies. Balbuziente is a stand out as he expertly manipulates his voice and physicality to metamorphose from Shannon’s protective older brother Brent, to a rough school bully, to a school friend to a predator. Karen Crone plays Molloy’s charismatic, grounded mother Donna with such heart, but has a show-stopping moment as the fabulous, over-the-top Jessica: the star of the fashion show that Shannon is executive producer for.
Now to the star of the show. Conor Leach brings such vulnerability and authenticity to his role as Shannon. From the moment we see him emerge as the first-person narrator of the story we are about to watch unfold in front of us, we are immediately drawn to his gentle voice, mannerisms and shy charisma. We, as the audience, immediately invest in his story and his emotional and mental battles so much so that by the end of the play, we leave the theatre feeling like we’ve made a new friend.
shake & stir’s Fourteen is a new work that has themes that, unfortunately, still resonate with many young queer people today while still feeling definitely and unapologetically a love letter to the late 90s. This work should be toured to schools, especially those that have been in the media due to their prejudices against the queer community. I won’t mention names to avoid defamation , but you know who you are.
Rating: 5 Stars
Photo Credit: David Fell