Fresh space place

Drizzle Boy (Queensland Theatre)

Queensland Theatre, Bille Brown Studio

March 11 – 31

Queensland Theatre’s “Drizzle Boy” is a fresh, smart, funny and beautifully-brave play that illustrates what theatre can and should be and do. The work by Tasmanian playwright Ryan Enniss was the winner of the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award 2022-23, from a field of over 200 entries and right from the start of its world premiere, it is easy to appreciate why. The unique coming of age story, which is informed by the playwright’s lived experience, might well be Australia’s answer to the acclaimed “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”, except that its protagonist, the eponymous Drizzle Boy is all grown up and heading off to his first day at university. By his own admission he is nervous about the thought of meeting new people. Having been diagnosed as autistic, he often feels like an alien who just wants to find his place. Then at his first-day Physics lecture, he meets fellow-space fan and his very own star-crossed love Julie (Naomi Price).

Once again Matilda Award-winning Daniel Evans’ dynamic direction of this complex story breaks our hearts before putting them back together again, however, the combined theatrical imaginations behind the show’s development need to all be commended for how they bring to life its imaginative universe. It is a fast-moving 95 minutes without interval as the story is realised by the often exaggerated characterisation that comes through the lens of the protagonist’s memory, including satire of now-horrifying previously-suggested ‘cures’ for autism.

The cast of three is incredibly hard working. David R Nixon is never off stage as Drizzle Boy, delivering a passionate performance of both pathos and high energy humour. Price and Kevin Spink are, meanwhile, in and out of differing roles throughout, which is helped immensely by Christina Smith’s bold costume design. As the company’s Artistic Director, Lee Lewis notes pre-show to the opening night audience, that their approximately 20 costume changes each, require a change average of every two minutes…. no easy feat by any means. To add to the extent of their commitment, Price and Spink also ably assume distinctly different vocals (and accents), with voice and dialect coaching by Gabrielle Rogers.

Of early note is Price’s appearance as the first woman in space Valentina Tershkova, one of Drizzle Boy’s heroes, who makes appearance in his imagined psychological space to own the room with her intense all-attitude demeanour and demanding ‘encouragement’ of his build of a rocket ship. Contrastingly, Price uses higher, softer vocal tones to capture the youthfulness of university student Julie, idealistic despite, or perhaps as a consequence of, her own recent life experiences. Her range as a performer is seen also within her role as Drizzle Boy’s unnamed Mother, who goes from increasingly hyperbolic statements in one funny scene of overreaction to poignantly daring to voice her innermost thoughts in response to initial revelation that her son is autistic.

Sprink similarly moves easily from the caricature of Drizzle Boy very-German Physics teacher to his daggy movie-mad dad with a film-based analogy for every situation (including adoption of the name Drizzle Boy), bringing laughs aplenty to his awkward attempts at that talk with his son, but always a sense of coming from a place of love and ambition to genuinely connect within a relationship shaped by neurodivergence.

With many short scenes and snappy character appearances, things pace along, yet there are still moments in which the audience can sit in the simplicities of the show’s messaging. The play is crafted in its revelations of interwoven motifs of movies, physics and space, and whether power is beyond or without our control. And, as it lets us into experience of a world designed by and for neurotypical people, it also educates in its reminder of how as humans we can look at the same thing but see things differently, through insightful description of, for example, how experience of sounds can be in colours.

Just as the story flashes forward and backwards, characters pop up, in and out of the nooks of crannies of Christina Smith’s deceptively simple set design. A reflective ring revolve stage is used judiciously so as to complement, but never distract from, audience absorption in the ultimately moving story. Light and shade are also evident in its soundtrack, which features snippets and revisits to Annie Lennox, Lizzo and alike, especially in an absolutely fabulous dance number. It is all quite eclectic, but also, carefully linked. In this way, the play is quite unique in its compact combination of many elements, including magical realism, seen, most obviously, in the goat-headed demon Baphomet that appears as expression of Drizzle Boy’s internal world, when, for example, he remembers the trauma of memories of his Year 10 formal.

“Drizzle Boy” is a very entertaining show that easily draws audiences into its orbit as it brings attention to underrepresented groups through its reflection of society seen and unseen. The lack of interval is a wise decision as this is a very special journey that should not be interrupted. Indeed, the play will readily capture your heart, especially in its illuminating conclusion, and it is easy to understand its already extended season announcements. When, like in a magical hug to humanity, Drizzle Boy takes back his story, the play also serves to educate without alienating or lecturing to its audience, making clear its message that if you’ve met one autistic person, you have met one autistic person.

Photos c/o –  Brett Boardman

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