Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Heartbreak Kid

Gawd, what is it with female teachers fancying their male students? What on earth can possibly be attractive about a 17-year-old boy - apart from those things that perhaps, a 15-year-old girl might find intriguing? It certainly confuses me - having seen Notes on a Scandal and now the Brisbane Arts Theatre's production of The Heartbreak Kid ( the first show of their 2007 "Early Week" series), I'm still none the wiser. However, I can say this is a decent production, and worth a look if you like Australian plays. Richard Barrett's cultural coming-of-age story is probably best known as the Australian film starring Claudia Karvan and Alex Dimitriades. Having never seen the film, nor the TV spin-off show Heartbreak High, or even a previous production of the play, I'm in no position to provide comparisons - which could be fortunate or unfortunate, depending on where you're coming from.

The Heartbreak Kid tells the story of Nicky (Keil Gailer), a 17-year-old boy of Greek heritage, who develops a crush on his new teacher, Christine "Papa" Papadoupolis (Belle Reid) at an inner-Sydney high school. Papa is only young herself (22 or 23), and seems to appreciate Nicky's fine form, especially when he's playing soccer. But as a teacher, any kind of relationship is obviously out-of-bounds, so Papa has to cope with tutoring classes of unwilling students for their HSCs, all the while fending off Nicky's puppy dog advances and her own feelings. That's really about all of the plot I can tell you; not because I'd be giving the rest away, but because there really isn't that much else to talk about - there's no real subplot despite some promising starts with Nicky's parents having a lotto win and a subsequent fight he has with his friend Steve (Nick Trenthan) and cousin Con (a show-stealing Shayne Grieve), which never gets fully resolved.

Director Kat Kiorgaard has obviously relished the play's 80s setting. The costuming and soundtrack in particular are excellent, although I got the feeling that perhaps a little bit too much attention had been paid to the musical choices. The device of linking a song's lyrics to the scene just played was clever to begin with, but as the drama escalated, I felt it undermined some of the on-stage tension, particularly when some of the songs made the audience laugh. The play certainly had its light and humourous moments, but sometimes it felt like a comedy with bits of drama thrown in, rather than the other way around, which I believe was probably what the playwright intended. This was exacerbated by the stirling efforts of the supporting cast, who - though hilarious and well-acted - really were just comic relief. Only Daren King as Graham, Papa's concerned fellow teacher, brought any kind of gravitas to his role.

For the most part the pacing was consistent, although a scene in the first half where the boys get ready for a night out while listening to some hard rock went on for a bit too long, as did the subsequent scene in the nightclub. The set - fitting in as Early Week shows must with the Main House stage set-up - was very well used, and the lighting appropriate.

Without a doubt the best scenes were the moments between Papa and Nicky, as the young teacher struggles with her feelings and responsibilities, and the teenager puts on all the bravado his hormonally-supercharged body can muster. These are nice dramatic pieces - Reid and Gailer should be congratulated (although as one audience member told me afterwards: "They need to keep their volume up!").

The play aims to tackle the struggle immigrant Australian families face to "fit in" with the rest, and while there are cursory nods to this (Nicky and Con's attempt to get a school soccer team going, Papa has parents who want her to get married and have babies ASAP), they're never explored to the depth that might give greater understanding to the reasons why Nicky and Papa are attracted to each other. I believe the film goes into this in more detail; which would make sense, with film obviously having the luxury of time and space that theatre lacks.

Overall though, this is a well-told tale of misplaced feelings of love - even if I personally have no idea how such feelings could exist in the first place!

Production seen: Sunday 18 March
Running until 3rd April.

1 comment:

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