S-27

The audience doesn’t know quite what to make of S-27 at first. 

 Two Birds One Stone and Griffin IndependentSBW Stables Theatre
Friday, 19 March, 2010
The audience doesn’t know quite what to make of S-27 at first. The plastic orange chairs littering the stage, the uniforms worn by a few cast members and the sound of children in the background suggest a school setting. But when we see a beaten and bruised young boy wearing dirty clothing and a petrified expression, we realised S-27 is more sinister than a schoolyard tale. 
S-27 is the name for Security Prison 27, a former high school that has been converted into hell on earth for political prisoners. The play is loosely based on the experiences of Nhem En, the staff photographer at the notorious S-21 prison in Cambodia in the Khmer Rouge regime.
May is a young revolutionary idealist whose belief in ‘the organisation’ overshadows all compassion for the prisoners in her jail. It is her job to photograph each inmate and send them through the door to an unknown fate. Some are accepting, others are willing to do anything to save themselves including grovel for mercy. None are spared, not even her family although May’s resistance weakens at each disconcerting encounter. 
It isn’t until former boyfriend Col shows up that her resolve changes. Suddenly her cool demeanour is lost and she’s a shrivelled mess on the floor. Whether it’s the power of love or the discernible lack of interest from Col, her attitude changes and things are never the same. 
Most actors only have a short time on stage making it hard to portray well-developed characters. Although there are moments that seem as though the words are just being spoken without underlying motivation, they are few and far between. Sarah Snook as May takes a while to warm up but overall holds her ground while showing rare glimpses of hidden vulnerability. Anthony Gooley displays fabulous physicality in his role of Col and Kelly Paterniti is engaging and amusing in her role as photographer trainee June. 
The stage is lit by harsh fluorescent lights that not only provides an unforgiving setting but also illuminates the audience opposite. It is fascinating to see the different reactions to violence, power and oppression. Expressions range from being disturbed and uncomfortable to looks of hope and fear, not dissimilar to the reactions from the characters on stage. 
Although S-27 is deliberately confronting and full of powerful themes, the ending feels somewhat anticlimactic. This only detracts slightly from what is otherwise a very thoughtful and well-performed piece of theatre.
Booking Information: http://www.griffintheatre.com.au/whats-on/s-27/
Until 10 April, 2010

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

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