Set entirely in the bedroom of 19 year-old Liv on the night of her birthday party, Rosie Licence’s third play effortlessly captures the veiled and confusing world of adolescent interactions; infused by alcohol and tauntingly preserved through the “tiny dots” of social media. Simultaneously resonating with and cringing at the flawed relationships between the mismatched array of guests at Liv’s party, Licence has mastered capturing the frightening yet intoxicating experience of being a young person navigating anarchic social rules.
The Sydney Fringe production is the product of a 40 000 word document in which Licence archived experiences and conversations with her peers since the end of last year. Overall, Licence was foremost struck by “a general breakdown of communication” in relationships. These restricted connections are encapsulated by the characters of Licence’s play, who are constantly sizing each other up.
The play opens on Liv’s bedroom which operates as a centre-stage for the snarky back and forth that litters adolescent house parties. Liv’s 30-year-old colleague, John Mann (Max Seppelt), is sprawled unconscious on her bed. The Brentwood school mates then enter, wondering, “Who the fuck is this dude?” Liv enters and engages the boys’ mockery, however only to also be evaluated once she exits – “Liv’s a cool chick”. It is these constant movements surrounding Liv’s bedroom which perfectly convey the play’s sentiment – You’re meant to be chill, but if you’re too chill no one notices you. Drama irritates people, but a lack of drama is boring. How are we meant to navigate relationships and expectations when no one knows who or what they are?
In this realist portrayal of contemporary youth, social media is another force that throws everything into flux. Liv (played by Victoria Boult), hilariously portrays a common absorption in social media. The screen of Liv’s phone is obnoxiously projected onto the stage, and this innovation achieves the laughter it deserves. We watch as Liv types to James, and we watch as the tiny dots flicker in a familiar rhythm of anxious anticipation. We may laugh at Liv’s cheesy satisfaction with James’ equally cheesy flirtations, but a part of us knows that if we were in the same place, we’d be smiling too.
Social media is by no means a gimmick in this production. As Licence said, “social media is such an inherent part of our lives and how we communicate, but I think when people question social media it is the older generation who are just like it’s bad we should stop using it, and that’s not really an option so maybe we should talk about it amongst ourselves.”
Generating a conversation is precisely what the play achieves. While the opening scenes play for laughs, we are effortlessly guided to the confronting realisation that we share the various flaws and insecurities reflected in each of the 13 characters. We can resonate with Liv’s body insecurities, Claire’s emotional outbursts and Henry’s cowardice all at once, and in creating these characters Licence drew on experiences of her own. Liv, Claire (played by Sophie Colbran) and Georgia (played by Emma Burns), are the characters that are closest to home.
“I think they represent different times in my life or different levels of maturity or even different moods,” Licence described.
The play’s honest representation of female friendships refreshingly challenges the one-dimensional cat fights or idealised communications that litter the screens of mainstream representations of these relationships in film. While flawed, these friendships are real and, at times, beautifully revealing of female closeness. The scene of Liv and Georgia’s startling honest conversation about sex is particularly powerfully executed. Liv asks Georgia, “What if I can’t do it? What if I’m fat? What if I have a weird vagina?” and cries. This moment of fragility, however, it also perfectly captures the anxieties embedded in new relationships.
Having drawn on Licence’s own internal thoughts, the play centres the experience of young people, and, in particular, young women. The feminine “streams of consciousness”, as Licence described them, are a provocative tool throughout the play. The characters weave in and around each other in an anxious combination of monologue and dialogue that powerfully reveal the familiar female insecurities. Lines such as “If I’m being honest with myself, I think I only ever cry when I don’t feel pretty”, or “Forgive me, am I being a bad feminist? Am I good enough for your version of feminism?”, speak to the complex but underrepresented thoughts confronting young women.
Not that male fragility is spared. Everything’s chill, you’re always down for a laugh, and you never say too much. Henry (played by Joshua Shediak) and Adam (played by Joe Ingui) are the “Bentwood boys”, as they explained, jokingly, “Get it, because we’re bent, we all fuck each other?” Of course, they’re “just kidding, mate”; they wouldn’t want to be mistaken for being gay. Herein lie the darker repercussions of the boys’ banter. We begin by laughing at their familiar idiocy, before we remember that this is a larger problem of hyper-masculine culture’s allergy to homosexuality, emotion and any honest form of self-expression. A problem most seriously conveyed in the total absence of response to Claire’s confrontation of sexual assault. Henry completely dismisses Adam’s call to confront the issue, and with a sigh of relief banter resumes uninterrupted.
Licence’s ability to construct a show that keenly reflect her own and her audience’s insecurities marks her as an important voice to watch from a new generation of theatre makers.