The State Theatre Company’s production of Fleur Kilpatrick’s latest play, Terrestrial, has a number of flaws but is still a very compelling exploration of adolescent alienation and emotional confusion.
The action centres upon fifteen year old Liddy, a girl who has been brought to a remote South Australian mining town by her mother who is making her latest escape attempt, running from the damaging and destructive dependency she has on her partner – Liddy’s father.
The isolated town in which they arrive is slowly dying, and serves as a strong metaphor for Liddy’s own sense of loneliness and entrapment in a life over which she has little control.
She soon meets the only other person in her age group in town, a Muslim boy, Badar, who, over the period of one month measured by the appearance of the full moon in the clear night sky, tries to gain Liddy’s trust and friendship as they slowly begin to share their hopes and anxieties with each other.
Diddy reveals her belief in alien life existing beyond earth and her wish for them to arrive and take her away from her terrestrial life – another metaphor, poignantly chosen for the unlikelihood of it ever occurring and therefore making it an effective device used to encourage audience sympathy and empathy.
The young actors who play the two key roles, Annabel Matheson and Patrick Jhanur, are on stage for the entire performance, even when the suddenly shifting timeframes have only one actor involved in the immediate action.
For the most part, they do a sterling job. However, Nescha Jelk’s directorial decision to have these temporal and geographical shifts occur in a single eye-blink change of lighting occasionally catches the actors slightly out of synch with the action, or at times caught intrusively in positions where the audience finds it hard to ignore their presence, even though they are meant to be momentarily ‘invisible’ in those particular sequences.
Hence, suspension of disbelief is hard to maintain as their presence is impossible to ignore.
Because designer Meg Wilson’s set is so minimalist – a table and chair placed in front of a window/mirror – and the play is so dialogue intensive with minimal physical action, Matheson and Jhanur find themselves static for periods of time between delivering their lines, and their acting at these times was often a little unconvincing as they seemed to be switching in and out of their roles and appeared slightly awkward at these moments.
The lighting and sound design however were both very effective, particularly in the way the combination of these two elements enabled a convincing shift from interior scenes to the open air starlit locations alongside the local reservoir, or back to the claustrophobic police interrogation room which is used to steadily build the suspense as the play moves inevitably towards its tragic denouement.
Terrestrial is play that underscores the depth of responsibility parents have for their children, and the indelible marks we can leave on our offspring when we selfishly embroil them in the ramifications of our poor decisions and life choices.
Liddy’s fixation on her space alien abetted escape is one most of us will be able to relate to, as we all, most certainly, would have had moments in our own lives where endurance has proved difficult and cutting and running from confrontation was an almost irresistible temptation.
Kilpatrick’s play, undoubtedly, touches upon some universal truths, and the minor flaws in this slightly frayed production ultimately do not deter its key concerns from having a significant impact on its audience.
Terrestrial is performed at the Space Theatre until June 2.
Tickets available here: http://statetheatrecompany.com.au/buy-tickets/