Fuel for thought

Fuel (Shock Therapy Productions)

Queensland Theatre, Diane Cilento Studio

November 25 – December 3

Shock Therapy Productions’ newest work, the cleverly named “Fuel” explores some big themes in its consideration of the psychology of toxic relationships and coercive control, yet it manages to do so effectively in just a 50-minute running time, such is the craftedness of its writing by company founders Hayden Jones and Sam Foster.

The play begins with smart and kind 16-year-old Ivy (Sarah McLeod) telling us of her dreams of playing for the Firebirds and maybe even the Diamonds one day. Netball occupies a lot of her time, but she is still able to be always together with 18-year-old Seb (Zachary Boulton), her first real boyfriend of a couple months. As Seb arrives, it is clear that they are crazy about each other. However, what begins as bright young love before long deteriorates into obsession, control, need and destruction, as we witness their relationship unfold over a 12-month period.

There is nothing superfluous as things move quickly towards the first concerning tone change in Seb’s texts (projected onto screen for us to share in the full interaction). Nathan Sibthorpe’s AV design and videography play a key part in the show’s messaging, for as well as orienting us as to live action settings of the school canteen, Tuesday night hangouts in the Bunnings carpark, and alike, it also allows for news report footage that runs in parallel. In unfortunately all too recognisable scenes, even in parody, we see media coverage of the fall of rugby superstar Dallas Bronson (Sam Foster), sidelined due to alleged accusations of domestic violence against his alleged victim former spouse. As the reported national toll of deaths due to domestic violence climbs, we see the changes in Ivy in response to months of Seb’s pressure and paranoia, with Guy Webster’s dynamic sound design taking us into settings and transitioning us between live action and video scenes.

‘It’s easy to lose yourself in a new relationship,’ her friend Chase, warns Ivy, in clear foreshadowing of how things are to follow as, consumed by their relationship, Ivy loses touch with everything that was once important in her life. There are clichés too in Ivy’s words of reassurance to her d mother and likely also herself, but clichés are clichés because they are true and herein lies the potent power of the story’s messaging.

Its exploration of coercive control may be confronting to some, however, the show’s powerful messaging is tempered by some moments of humour too thanks to the efforts of its two actors who play over 20 characters as the story unfolds. Both McLeod and Boulton give rigorous performances. McLeod in particular credibly plays a 16-year-old so that we become fully invested in Ivy’s story, appreciating her confusion, self-doubt and despair and sitting with her in moments of trauma after what she has ‘made’ him do.

Boulton moves from his primary role as muscle car mad Seb to all kinds of secondary roles in support of the storytelling. Obvious physicalities work well with changed voice tones, inflections and even accents to help us follow who is who in Ivy’s world. Chasehas hands raised in hold of a not-there backpack and Ivy’s mother always hands on her hips when in concerned conversation with her about if Seb is indeed just a good guy trying to figure some things out, but even so transitions between roles become more awkward where there are multiple characters in conversation with each other within single scenes.

“FUEL” combines physical theatre, political satire and cinematic AV to create a powerful piece of contemporary theatre. It is a taut, at tines tense, work but it does what it needs to in sharing such an important reminder of the shocking statistics of domestic violence, all the forms that such abuse can take and the wide variety of groups who can be affected. The play, which has been touring for a year, is clearly written for young people in a way that doesn’t talk down to them or impose a moral message, but rather provokes conversation that continues beyond its final deserving applause and also, importantly offers hope. And for that, it should certainly be commended.

Photos c/o – Cinnamon Smith

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