First love reconceived

First Love is the Revolution (Queensland Theatre)

August 4

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Basti (Bardiya McKinnon) and Rdeca (Sarah Meacham) meet in moonlight when she sticks her head through the fence. He brings her a gift and has prepared her some food, but she has already eaten… a mouse. What makes their meeting particularly star-crossed is that Rdeca is a fox…. literally. Yet, in its reconceived tale of the youngsters’ need for each other and consequential rebellion against their families, London-based Australian playwright Rita Kalnejais’ “First Love is the Revolution” is much more than just its initially eccentric premise.

Young Rdeca is one of the wild things and it is with them that the story begins. Rdeca is undertaking her first attempt at a kill…. of Gregor the softly-spoken, sad-eyed mole (Lucas Stibbard). While her highly-protective mother (Veronica Neave) directs her to “trust the destiny in the kill”, the confrontation of conversation with her victim reveals her moral conflict. This theme continues as 14-year-old schoolboy Basi (short for Sebastian) sets a trap to kill a fox, for just as foxes prey on moles, humans are capable of a cruelty that Rdeca will never understand; “they kill what scares them and they are afraid of everything”, her mum says in warning to never venture far from home.

What tempers this bizarre story beyond being just one of absurdity are the performances of its talented cast, who bring their non-human roles to idiosyncratic life without making them caricatures devoid of any humanity, which is no easy feat, especially in an online play-reading format. Basti and Rdeca make the novel story’s unlikely protagonist pairing appear absolutely natural in their insecurities, flirtation and young lover tiffs. Neave is appropriately imposing as Rdeca’s recently widowed mother Cochineal, however, of most significant note, is Sophia Emberson-Bain, whose lively animation of Rdeca’s sister Gustina, makes for the most memorable performance.

Julian Curtis ably alternates between Rdece’s protective fox brother Thoreau and crassly aggressive dog Rovis, while Stibbard shows his versatility in swift jump from role as gentle Gregor Mole to separated dad Simon, eager to show his bullied son some moves to see him through school, making even the simplest of lines of dialogue extremely funny. And the appearance of many cast members as chickens only adds to the show’s delight.

“It’s just so complicated,” Rdece says to her prey Gregor in a line that sums up the highly-imaginative play’s themes. Basti and Rdece claim to be each other’s destiny, but know also that there is destiny in the kill. While it is full of meaning, in its examination of this idea, “First Love is the Revolution” is also a very entertaining, humorous, hopeful and touchingly tender story of friendship, family and first love. Until everyone can share in stories together properly, #qualitytimewithQT continues with its online play club readings, hopefully of similar calibre as this work, for unusual subject matter aside, this is a highly-original story full of love and hope…. in other words, exactly what we need right now.

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