Theatre – TickTickBoom
Venue: The Actor’s Pulse, Redfern
Written By: Melissa Lee Speyer
Directed By: Paul Gilchrist
A moving story of living with death and the importance of friendship, TickTickBoom won the Silver Gull Award awarded annually by Sydney-based company subtlenuance in 2015. Its performance also marks the beginning of a second decade in the life of this small but vigorous independent company which has produced over two dozen original plays since its inception in 2008.
The play begins late in 1996, the year of Sydney’s first big New Year’s Eve fireworks display, which featured a 10-second pyrotechnic countdown, each second marked by a comet shot from different buildings across the city, culminating in an explosive display. A potent image of the hope for the future, NYE begins and ends the story of Clara (Rose Martel) and Jodie (Emily McKnight).
The two girls are both in their final year of high school in 1996. A brief period in terms of a normal life span, but a year that assumes enormous importance as it marks, albeit artificially, a turning point from girlhood to womanhood, and entry into the wider world. However, their apparent futures could not be more different. Jodie, who suffers from advanced pulmonary hypertension and, dependent on an oxygen cylinder, is mostly confined to her bedroom, whereas Clara has already snatched some of her future independence by taking her mother’s car and driving without a license.
The performance opens with Jodie ironically repeating “Tick Tick Boom” and looking anything other than celebratory. Her time is relentlessly ticking away and she knows eventually her lungs will fail and her life will be over before it has really begun. Her response is to withdraw in herself – to leave life before it leaves her – and she finds comfort only in her small spiny cactus collection and listening to music.
Clara is reluctantly permitted entry into Jodie’s grey-toned world as bearer of assignments from school. Although they were childhood friends, Jodie appears to despise Clara treating her in a supercilious manner and ridiculing what she sees as Clara’s culturally inferior tastes. The ebullient Clara, in her outrageously high platform shoes and red hat, is resilient and persists in her attempts to engage Jodie in a normal teenage existence.
While we learn that Clara’s visits have been “incentivised”, as she puts it, by her mother, it is clear that she does care for the spikey Jodie. Her endeavours to “cheer up” Jodie are usually rejected, apart from the present of a cactus, and initial gratitude for Clara’s gift of a dress for the high school formal, which, however, Jodie does not attend. For her part, Jodie, who has poured scorn on Clara’s folksy advice that she should use the time she has to live as well as she can, eventually comes to see that Clara was right.
By the time Jodie makes this discovery Clara has been subdued by personal loss and when the two meet it seems their positions are reversed, Jodie now the comforter and cactus-bearer, and Clara, the one who refuses to be comforted. However, as the 1997 New Year explodes into noise and colour, the two women face the future in the knowledge that theirs is a friendship for life, however long that may be.
This delicate story of feminine friendship gains from the sensitive direction of Paul Gilchrist, and both Emily McKnight and Rose Marel are totally and painfully convincing as the two young women struggling to find hope in an arbitrary world.
October 10-12, 2018.