Sticks and Stones | Review of Tough Beauty, A Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre Project
Tough Beauty (2013) is the inaugural production from the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre. Written by Finegan Kruckemeyer and directed by Claudia Chidiac, Tough Beauty deals with a heavy, but important issue, teen girl violence. Inspired by YouTube videos of schoolyard violence, Tough Beauty tells the story of four young girls struggling to define who they are and how they stand within society. In this sense Krukemeyer has done a good job. The play is not preachy, and it certainly doesn’t come at you with a message, agenda or stance. It merely presents the story of these girls and attempts to show why they are the way they are. We are allowed to see that behind a lot of the violence is fear, a desire to be accepted, or not to appear weak. The bullies in this play aren’t generic baddies – they are real people with real insecurities, and are just as much a victim as the people they persecute and Krukemeyer has done a fine job of portraying this.
If the play has a drawback, at times one does yearn for more scene. The characters spend a lot of time talking through their cognitions, explaining how they feel (and even what they’re doing). Some of this would have been better presented as action instead of narration. We wanted to be shown, not just told. This maybe robed the piece of some of its impact, but for the most part the performances of the girls managed to compensate for this.
Danielle Baynes produced a standout performance as the red headed Rana. This was largely because she made good sense of her long monologues which often behaved as streams of consciousness. Baynes brought a credible note of drama to the show, and the production was better for it. Also impressive was Baynes’ beautiful vocal technique and brilliant breath control, a difficult feat considering the youthful, ‘inarticulate’ character she was playing.
As Nat, Rana’s best friend, Nicole Dimitriadis was equally watchable, managing the comedy and ‘the serious’ balance particularly well. Without falling into the trap that the ‘best friend role’ often produces – a performance based on gimmick – Dimitriadis presented a nicely moderate portrayal of the slightly dorky but well-meaning year 10 student.
As the new girl Sasha, Kate Englefield brought, but didn’t overdo, the underlying toughness required of her. And whilst aesthetically perfect for the role, Englefield should attempt to sign post the character arc further, to make the vital personality shift credible for the audience. Potentially however, this could have been a writing issue. Overall, Englefield did well with this somewhat difficult role.
Similarly, Rebecca Hitch was generally pleasing in her portrayal of the ‘recently hardened’ Mika (and sister of Nat). Hitch did well to handle her lengthy dialogue and is definitely to be credited for demonstrating superior vocal technique. However, Hitch should perhaps settle and ground the physicality of Mika further, as it appeared unnecessarily caricatured. Arguably however, Karina Gonzalez video portrayal of ‘TK’ was the most authentic – vocally it appeared to be an exact replica of that character type – a rough westie – and further appeared to be the most fluid and consistent.
The entire cast was excellently skilled in stage technique, and were always audible – something under estimated but highly valued in theatre production everywhere. Yet on the same note, the cast was let down by their stage fighting (integral to the plot and theme). Simply, the combat fell short because they were apologetically throwing punches. The quick fix is to commit fully to every physical action.
Special mention goes to the music composed by Ink Flowers, Karen Otero and MC Trey. It suited the piece well and added to the atmosphere without being overbearing or overdone. No small feat as many productions get this wrong.
This is a show on an important issue which deserves to be examined, but there are also some very fine performances from the young cast and they are all to be congratulated. Well worth a look in.
Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre on 15 – 17 August, 2013 before embarking on a small tour across Western and South Sydney. For more information see their website: http://toughbeauty.com.au/