Almost everything about the State Theatre Company of South Australia’s Babyteeth is new except the subject matter.
Cancer is heavy going at any time but when it’s terminal in a 14-year-old girl (Milla) with a brand new 25-year-old (junky) beau (Moses), combined with the struggles of her parents (Henry & Anna), the particular dynamics of a new, heavily pregnant neighbour (Toby) and her missing dog (Henry) along with the family’s smarmy Eastern European music teacher (Gidon) and a new student of his (Thuong), well, the emotional tsunami unleashed over The Space Theatre’s stage for the next 2 hours is quite simply inevitable. Luckily for the audience, new Playwright Rita Kalnejais buoys the intense subject matter with some very effective humour across the length of the play.
What Kalnejais has written, in her gestative period as a playwright, resides somewhere between a good play and a really good film. It’s easy to see the genuine talent Kalnejais does posses and the all-important seeds of an outstanding career are visible throughout the storyline.
Director Chris Drummond has worked wonders with this production. The set is said to be the biggest ever put into The Space Theatre but the actual structure, with its almost endless series of wooden slats, would appear to be more at home in suburban Far North Queensland than suburban Sydney (where it’s set), Melbourne or Adelaide. Although, it is intelligently effective as a working model of depth with nooks and crannies and a moving ability to invert itself for the show’s equally effective ending. The naturalistic acting style Drummond has commanded from his actors works as perfectly as this show has been cast.
To watch the tiny, bald-headed Danielle Catanzariti walk across the stage is as painful as visiting the R.A.H’s acute care unit – no one could possibly see that and not feel the anguish portrayed.
The skinny, lanky Matt Crook plays her lackadaisical partner Moses almost perfectly and is curiously able to pull the perfect drug-f***ed face. Together they offer the perfect dichotomy of their roles.
Claire Jones and Chris Pitman as Milla’s parents Anna and Henry are funny, heart wrenchingly pathetic and tear inducing in their ability to slowly uncoil the emotional turmoil of their respective character’s vulnerabilities.
Paul Blackwell positively thrives in his role as a sleazy but kind violin teacher/pianist; the audience certainly enjoyed his appearances throughout the play.
Lawrence Mau as child prodigy Thuong played his role, and his violin, with a deftness as gentle as his tender age.
Alyssa Mason is convincing as the slightly trippy, rough-around-the-edges neighbour Toby. The problem here is the script – this role could be an effective tool in a film version but on stage it’s an extravagance that doesn’t contribute much to the show or the audience.
The ending of Babyteeth is (borrowing from another play in a gestation period) to end at the beginning. It is serene and powerful. No one who sees this production will be able to forget it in a hurry